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by Ann Harrison

Mitch Kapor quits Groove amid civil liberty concerns

Opinion
Mar 18, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Kapor resigns from Groove board after deal with Total Information Awareness Office

Software pioneer, Mitch Kapor quit the board of Groove Networks after the vendor sold its collaboration software to John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness Office.

Groove was lucky to have Kapor, who co-founded Lotus Development, on board but in January he decided it was time to say goodbye after Groove chose to do business with the TIA. 

An ardent civil libertarian, Kapor also co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In an interview with the Associated Press, Kapor said he and other civil libertarians had, “significant concerns about the potential damage to our freedoms from the TIA project.”

Kapor is right to be concerned about the TIA; we all should be concerned. The Total Information Awareness Office is trying to develop a data mining system that would scan an array of personal information including telephone, Internet, financial, travel and health records. The goal, they say, is to find terrorists. The result is a police state where citizens are not permitted to view their dossiers, let alone dispute the accuracy of the information that could be used to target people in any number of ways.

Let’s not forget that Poindexter, a former Reagan administration national security adviser, was convicted on charges of lying to Congress, destroying official documents and obstructing a congressional investigation in connection with the Iran Contra scandal. The charges were overturned on appeal, but you don’t want this man sifting through your personal data.

Groove seems more than happy to provide the tools to allow the TIA (via the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) to develop more efficient techniques for violating our civil liberties. Companies have the right to sell to anyone they wish, and Groove is certainly retrenching to survive in the market. The company recently raised $38 million in new venture capital from Microsoft, Intel and Accel Partners. It also cut 58 jobs or an estimated 20% of its workers.

But Kapor’s departure from Groove’s board demonstrates that principled technologists can sound the alarm when software tools are being used to develop a more efficient surveillance society. The fact that he remains one of the company’s largest shareholders given him some clout in the future actions of Groove. Some would argue for divestment, but he has not chosen that path.

Kapor says that he wants to focus more energy on his nonprofit Open Source Applications Foundation, which has been developing an open-source information manager known as Chandler. I’d also like to see him speak out against the TIA, and other such efforts to undermine liberties in the name of illusionary security.