Groove Networks founder Mitch Kapor has quit the company after learning that its software was being used by the Pentagon as the cornerstone of an internal US surveillance system.
Kapor is best known for as the co-founder of software vendor Lotus Development in 1982. Lotus was acquired by IBM in 1995 for $3.5 billion – still one of the biggest ever takeovers in software.
Groove’s peer-to-peer software provides a key component to an anti-terrorist surveillance project being developed and tested at the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Information Awareness Office.
The Total Information Awareness project is being run by vice admiral John Poindexter, a former national security adviser under President Reagan who was convicted on a range of charges related to the Iran-Contra scandal.
Poindexter is a bete noir of US civil liberties groups. His project is intended to enable the US government to analyse multiple databases – perhaps thousands – for patterns that might indicate terrorist activity.
Quite apart from the fact that such a system would likely yield an unacceptably high level of false positives, civil liberties groups also suggest that such a system could easily be abused and undermine ordinary citizens’ privacy. They are implacably opposed to the project.
“Mitch cares very much about the social impact of technology. It’s the reason he founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation,” Shari Steele, executive director of the civil liberties group told the New York Times.
The company and Kapor himself remained tight-lipped. Kapor said that the Pentagon deal was a “delicate subject” and that he had resigned to be able to pursue his interests in open source software.
Groove is one of the most lavishly funded software companies in recent years, having concluded a $38 million round of funding last week, $51 million from software giant Microsoft in October 2001 and $66 million from other sources.
Kapor co-founded the EFF in 1990 after becoming exasperated at the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s ignorance of computer technology, its heavy-handed attitude towards hackers and its frequent seizures of equipment at computer bulletin-board services.
His co-founder in the project was Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow and the organisation was established with donations from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Sun Microsystems’ employee number five John Gilmore, who had resigned from the company a millionaire before the age of 30.
See also: America’s new big brother