Group to Fight for Computer Users' Rights


Software pioneer Mitch Kapor, founder and former chairman of Lotus Development, has found a new high-tech crusade to keep him busy: fighting overzealous computer crime stoppers.

At a news conference today, Kapor, now chairman of a new software company, is scheduled to announce the creation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that will study and publicize the novel social and legal issues arising from the increasing use of computers to communicate and dispense information.

The new foundation is part of a small but growing concern that the continuing government crackdown on computer tampering, electronic eavesdropping and other "hacker" activities has gone too far. Some members of the foundation have said recent law enforcement steps threaten civil liberties, particularly First Amendment guarantees of free speech and Fourth Amendment protections against improper searches and seizures.

Kapor, who wrote the all-time best-selling personal computer program Lotus 1-2-3, has been speaking out in recent months about the dangers posed by overzealous enforcement of anti-hacker laws and has expressed interest in helping to pay the legal fees of those charged under the laws.

However, a spokeswoman for Kapor said the new foundation will be "more than a hacker defense fund" and will support and fund public education and government lobbying efforts in addition to intervening in court cases.

Co-founder of the group is John Perry Barlow, a Wyoming cattle rancher active in Republican party politics who is perhaps best known as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead rock band. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, is a major donor to the foundation that will be based in Cambridge, Mass., near Kapor's current business.

Initially, the foundation will underwrite a $275,000 study of the issues by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, a group of engineers and others in the computer industry.

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