Kapor For The Defense In Computer Field

Lawrence Edelman
The Boston Globe

July 11, 1990

WASHINGTON - Concerned that the rights of computer users are being threatened by a nationwide crackdown on computer crime, Mitchell D. Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corp., yesterday announced the creation of a foundation that will promote computer education and fund legal efforts to extend First Amendment protection to electronic media.

At a news conference, Kapor was quick to note that the new foundation does not condone "hackers" who break into computers, and will not serve as a hackers' legal defense fund.

"Our mission is not to defend people who break into computer systems," said Kapor, who has suggested that the government is overemphasizing the dangers posed by hackers.

Kapor said that he and Steve Wozniak, who cofounded Apple Computer Inc., had each donated "a six-figure sum" to get the foundation off the ground, as did a third contributor, described by Kapor as a "Silicon Valley high-tech pioneer who wishes to remain anonymous." He declined to disclose the total amount raised but said the Cambridge-based foundation will seek outside support and has already received hundreds of inquiries from people interested in contributing.

The foundation's first action was to award a $275,000 grant to the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based public advocacy group. The two-year grant will be used to sponsor the group's ongoing educational and policy-setting efforts in protecting the civil liberties of computer users, said Marc Rotenberg, director of the group's Washington office.

Formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation comes as the Secret Service continues a two-year investigation, called Operation Sun Devil, that has already resulted in seven arrests and the seizure of some 40 computers and 23,000 disks of data. Law enforcement officials say that Operation Sun Devil and other investigations are a response to a dramatic rise in computer crime that threatens personal privacy and the security of government and corporate computers.

But Kapor said that the foundation is concerned that the anticomputer crime campaign is infringing on the rights of legitimate computer users to the freedom of speech and subjecting some of them to illegal searches. The foundation is already paying the legal expenses of Steve Jackson, the founder of a small game manufacturer in Austin, Texas.

According to Jackson, Secret Service agents armed with a search warrant raided his company's offices last March, seizing computers, software and all copies of its next product, a fantasy gamebook. Jackson, who says the confiscation nearly put him out of business, was told the book was a "handbook for computer crime."

Neither Jackson, who insists his book is simply a futuristic simulation game, nor any of his employees have been charged with a crime. It took several months to get the seized gear back from the Secret Service, and much of it was damaged beyond repair. A spokesman for the Secret Service, which enforces federal computer crime laws, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Harvey Silverglate, a prominent Boston attorney who is assisting Jackson, said it was especially disturbing that the federal agents seized Jackson's electronic bulletin board, a computerized version of a conventional bulletin board used to post promotions of the company's products as well as provide customers a place to exchange comments and ideas. Silverglate, whose fees are being paid by the foundation, said the seizure raised serious questions about whether electronic media such as computer bulletin boards and electronic mail systems are afforded the same First and Fourth amendment rights as newspapers and other traditional media.

The foundation has also filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case of Craig Neidorf, who has been indicted on charges of wire fraud and transporting stolen documents over state lines. Neidorf, a 20-year-old student at the University of Missouri, had published in his electronic newsletter a document describing an emergency 911 system that he obtained from someone who had allegedly stolen it from the telephone company's computer.

William J. Cook, an assistant US Attorney in Chicago who is prosecuting Neidorf, declined to comment on the case. While he praised the foundation for addressing educational issues, he defended the aggressive battle against computer crime, saying it cost the US economy anywhere from $500 million to $5 billion in areas such as stolen data, credit card fraud and expenditures to make computer networks more secure.

And citing a case in Atlanta, in which three men -- including Robert J. Riggs, accused of stealing the document published by Neidorf -- on Monday pleaded guilty to computer fraud charges relating to data stolen from BellSouth Corp., Cook said personal privacy had been threatened as well. "Hackers have the ability to break into telephone company computers and eavesdrop on the conversations of private citizens."

Gail Thackeray, an assistant attorney general in Arizona, defended tactics, including eavesdropping on electronic bulletin boards, used by law enforcement officials to combat computer fraud. "When you have an explosion in any kind of crime, you get a strong response," drawing an analogy to the crackdown on drunk driving, which has included random police stops and searches.

The foundation will also support the development of tools such as computer games that teach about computers, and software that makes them easier to use.

Kapor said that he had made the foundation his principal activity outside his family and running ON Technology Inc., the Cambridge software company he founded after leaving Lotus. Although some in the industry have criticized him for defending computer hackers, Kapor said he didn't think his funding of the foundation would jeopardize ON's relationship with the industry.

"Anyway, I'm not out to win a popularity contest," he said.

EDELMA;07/10 CORCOR;07/11,21:01 KAPOR11

Caption: PHOTO


Doesn't condone "hackers"

Copyright 1990