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Software Pioneer Quits Groove's Board After Firm Sells Program to Surveillance Agency

March 12, 2003|From Associated Press

Mitch Kapor, a California software pioneer best known as the founder of Lotus Development Corp. and now a staunch privacy advocate, has quit the board of Groove Networks Inc. after it sold collaboration software to a controversial Defense Department surveillance project.

In an interview Tuesday, Kapor declined to elaborate on his departure other than to say he had long planned to increase his focus on a nonprofit venture and would remain a major Groove shareholder.

Groove has sold its eponymous software to the Total Information Awareness Office, which is developing a data-mining system to identify potential terrorists.

Groove spokesman Richard Eckel confirmed Kapor's resignation, which occurred in January.

He also confirmed that the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, which oversees the information office, is a client.

"Mitch left the board to pursue spending 100% of his time on nonprofit activities," Eckel said.

Kapor helped launch the computer software revolution in the 1980s by co-founding Lotus, which developed trailblazing programs such as Notes and the 1-2-3 spreadsheet. Kapor left Lotus in 1987, and the company was later purchased by IBM Corp.

Since then, Kapor co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a cyberspace civil liberties group, and invested in several companies, including Beverly, Mass.-based Groove.

More recently, Kapor has been developing an open-source information manager called Chandler through his nonprofit Open Source Applications Foundation.

Groove, founded in October 1997, features software that employs peer-to-peer networking technology to allow users to collaborate with colleagues over the Internet. Documents can be worked on by several people at once and are instantly updated with any changes.

The Total Information Awareness Office, led by former Reagan administration national security advisor John Poindexter, is attempting to develop a terrorist identification system that could sift through citizens' financial, telephone, travel and medical records.

A figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, Poindexter was convicted on charges of lying to Congress, destroying official documents and obstructing a congressional investigation. The verdicts were overturned on appeal.

Last month, the office ran into resistance in Congress because of privacy concerns. Congress passed an amendment barring the system from gathering information on Americans without prior authorization from Congress.

Kapor said he was troubled by the project.

"I'm a very committed civil libertarian, and along with other civil libertarians, I have significant concerns about the potential damage to our freedoms from the TIA project," he said.

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