Click to see more posts by WeirdharoldWhat Will Mitch Kapor Say?

Yesterday evening Mitch Wagner published an article in the Information Week Blog called Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale Talks About Identity, Anonymity, and Preserving Freedom In Second Life. There are several aspects of the article I find very interesting.

Let me make a broad statement about Second Life, Rosedale said. He described the company’s mission, shared with Mitch Kapor, Benchmark Capital, and other investors: “We all very strongly believe that transparency and collaboration and communication make people better, bring people closer together, and make people less likely to harm each other. He added, The ability to increase communication between people and so improve the world is what motivates us as. It’s why we all come to work.

Our mission is to get this technology to everyone in the world as fast as we can, and we’ll make sacrifices in marginal revenue to maximize that goal. We don’t want to limit anyone’s access to Second Life. #1

Wagner went on in the article to quote himself from an upcoming article on sex in Second Life where Rosedale answered questions. In that quote section Wagner discusses the German authorities are investigating simulated child molestation and real child pornography in Second life and Linden Lab is cooperating fully with that investigation.

Moreover, while Linden Lab and the Second Life community bend over backward to protect residents’ privacy, that protection isn’t universal. Some users volunteer their credit-card information to buy products and services in Second Life. Linden Lab keeps track of users’ IP numbers. And Linden Lab is willing to turn that information over to law enforcement authorities to help investigate violations of the law, Rosedale said.

“Everything in Second Life is marked with your identity and name,” he said. “If you break the law in your locality in real life, and we can facilitate people going after you, we have no problem with that. #2

To the point that a real child pornography image is alleged to have been downloaded from Second Life, I don’t have a problem with that either.

Wagner wondered if that same type of cooperation would extend to authoritarian regimes such as China wanted to investigate residents who’d used Second Life for dissident action?

“What Linden Lab would do in that situation,” asked Wagner

Honestly, I don’t have an answer to that,” Rosedale said. “I think it’s incredibly important that we preserve people’s freedom as much as we possibly can. I, like many other believers and participants on the Internet, believe the world is a lot better off without national borders between people. I think that on principle, we believe that people in Second Life should be safe and free to express themselves as they choose, particularly in political speech. “We would have to balance growing Second Life to have the broadest access to people around the world, against preserving those freedoms in a way that maximized the value of the whole community. We will act to maximize benefit to everyone in Second Life, before we will maximize, say, revenues for our company. #3

Suddenly my mind went into a spin wondering just how much Rosedale knows about Mitch Kapor? Many people know that Kapor was the man behind Lotus 1-2-3, but today how many know much more than that and he is a major backer of Linden Lab and Second Life?

At this point, if I may, let me attempt to shed just a little light on Mitchell D. Kapor.

In high school Kapor was known as a “math nerd,” attending Columbia University’s high-school science honors program on his Saturdays. That is where he received his first experience in programming computers. Kapor went to Yale where he received his B.A. in 1971.

After college he worked as a progressive-rock DJ in Connecticut (WHCN-FM), taught transcendental meditation in Massachusetts and Iowa, held an entry-level position programming mainframes in COBOL, went back to college for a degree in psychology which he received in 1978, and worked a while as mental health counselor at New England Memorial Hospital. That is until he figured out he didn’t like that either.

Kapor was unemployed when he bought his first personal computer, an Apple II.

The day after I purchased it, Kapor tells me, I was hanging out in a computer store and I saw another guy, a man in his forties, well dressed guy, and eavesdropped on his conversation with the salesman. He didn’t know anything about computers. I’d had a year programming. And I could program in BASIC. I’d taught myself. So I went up to him, and I actually sold myself to him as a consultant. He pauses. I don’t know where I got the nerve to do this. It was uncharacteristic. I just said, ‘I think I can help you, I’ve been listening, this is what you need to do and I think I can do it for you.’ And he took me on! He was my first client! I became a computer consultant the first day after I bought the Apple II.”

Kapor had found his true vocation. He attracted more clients for his consultant service, and started an Apple users’ group. #4

Friend, Eric Rosenfeld, was doing a thesis at MIT on a mysterious form of financial statistics, but could not accquire time on MIT’s mainframes. Rosenfeld did have an Apple II, and thought it might be possible for a program to be written which would handle his research. Kapor wrote a program for him in BASIC that did the job, and along with Rosenfeld marketed the software called Tiny Troll at about 100 bucks a pop.

Rosenfeld pushed Kapor to enroll at MIT’s business school to garner his MBA. Kapor attended MIT for about seven months, and after gathering a good understanding of the precepts of accounting, he dropped out and moved to Silicon Valley.

In Silicon Valley, Kapor worked as a product manager for Personal Software Inc. the publisher of VisiCalc, Apple computer’s business program, and apparently decided he didn’t like California and moved back to Boston.

In Boston, Kapor got into business software and chose good people with which to deal, such as programmer Jonathan Sachs (the co-author of Lotus 1-2-3), his old buddy Eric Rosenfeld, (who became a real somebody on Wall Street) Wall Street analyst and venture capitalist Ben Rosen. Kapor founded and was CEO of Lotus Development Corporation.

After leaving executive management at Lotus, he spent 1986 and 1987 completing work on his favorite product, Lotus Agenda, the first application for Personal Information Management (PIM), and as a visiting scientist at MIT’s Center for Cognitive Science and the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. #5

When Lotus strayed too far from his ideas, Kapor left the company. In 1984 the Lotus had revenues of $156,000,000. He left Lotus an extremely wealthy man!

From 1987-1990 Mr. Kapor served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ON Technology, a developer of software applications for workgroup computing. #6

I think I need to set some background information for you at this point.

One has to understand, back in the early days there wasn’t an internet as we know it today. In the 60’s and early 70’s many mainframe of academic, governmental and corporate machines were trading data through the UNIX TCP/IP protocol. (that was the internet)

With personal computers you had to use your modem (registered with the telephone companies) and telephone up another computer to exchange information. Personal computers were first networked in the late 70’s. The first true exchange of information by multiple personal computer users probably occurred with the development of the Computerized Bulletin Board System in 1978 which ran on a “S-100 computer with 64k RAM and two single-sided 8″ diskettes each holding 250k.“ #7

The Bulletin Board System (BBS) allowed you to call in and leave or retrieve small amounts of data, such as ask a question or download some small program. The popularity of these type board grew, prices of computers began to fall and more Bulletin Board Services grew and expanded the amount of information that could be transferred. Communities of people began frequenting these boards and sharing information to the point that soon most any kind of information imaginable was available at one board or another.

The Bulletin Board Systems were in kind of a limbo in legal terms. The right of freedom of the press had not been extended to the electronic dissemination of words or idea the way they are to newspapers or magazines. Yet if you could afford to search the different BBS you could gather a wealth of information. Remember, if the BBS was not local to you, you had to pay telephone charges to access these boards. Most of the users using the BBS were young computer savvy people with little money, but an insatiable drive for information.

That fact led to information being shared on how to break hack into telephone companies computers and manipulating or reprogramming the electronic switches where one didn’t have to pay causing millions of dollar losses for the telephone companies. Often while in the computers, the “hacker” would look through file simply to see what was there, and on occasion make a copy of what he found. Usually just to have proof of his having succeeded in getting inside that computer.

Before long some unscrupulous individual probably discovered a file that contained Credit Card information and not only began using that information, but sharing how it was done on BBS… where more of that type of people learned and used the knowledge.

Because the telephone companies, and the credit card companies were losing millions of dollars along with day of unexpected national loss of long distance services. Law enforcement branches begin intensely investigating these phenomenon.

In 1990 there was a nationwide crackdown on illicit computer hackers, with arrests, criminal charges, and HUGE confiscations of data and equipment all over the United States. The crackdown created a battle royal of debate over electronic crime, punishment, freedom of the press, and issues of search and seizure. The struggle over ownership and the nature of cyberspace became an extremely public issue being debated on Bulletin Boards all across the country.

Many innocent people were caught up in these investigations. Some had their computers, disks, spiral notebooks, scraps of paper, stereos, walkmans, modems, and telephone confiscated; others were only talked to by either the F.B.I., or the United States Secret Service.

What happened is, once the “Law” tracked down one individual, questioned him, confiscated his computers and checked his hard drive to see his activity. It lead them to a BBS, which they proceeded to confiscate, question, check storage devices for activity, and be off to many other peoples homes or BBS’s.

I want to mention 3 different people and just a couple BBSs out of the hundreds, if not thousands, who had “dealings” with either the Secret Service or the F.B.I., and tie all of this back in with Mitch Kapor.

Craig Neidorf, a fledgling political science major with a particular interest in freedom-of-information issues, was from the St. Louis area, a fraternity member at the University of Missouri, and the co-editor of an underground hacker “magazine” called ‘Phrack’, which was an entirely electronic publication, distributed through bulletin boards and over electronic networks. Neidorf published a heavily edited copy of a document copied off a BellSouth computer as proof that someone had gained access to BellSouth’s AIMSX system on a mainframe computer. Neidorf was charged with “access device fraud” under Title 18 of the United States Code (U.S.C. Section 1029).

Section 1029, the term “access device” is very generously defined. An access device is: “any card, plate, code, account number, or other means of account access that can be used, alone or in conjunction with another access device, to obtain money, goods, services, or any other thing of value, or that can be used to initiate a transfer of funds.”

The Mentor wrote for Phrack, and also ran an underground board, Phoenix Project, but the Mentor was not a computer professional by trade. The Mentor was the managing editor of Steve Jackson Games, a professional parlor game designer.

Steve Jackson Games, Inc., was not a publisher of computer games. What you got when you bought a Steve Jackson Game was a Generic Universal Role-Playing System (GURPS) cardboard game tokens, maybe a few maps or a deck of cards. Most of their products were books. Yet like most businesses Steve Jackson Games did use computers to keep accounts and to generally run the business. They also had a Bulletin Board system called Illuminati, a small computer with one phone line and not linked to any computer networks; where users of Jackson’s games could communicate, trade mail, discuss the theory of the games, and get company news and product announcements.

All of Steve Jackson Games, Inc. computers were bookkeeping, payroll, taxes, the Illuminati, and yet to be published book game called “GURPS Cyberpunk” were confiscated by Secret Service. “GURPS Cyberpunk” was expected to be big seller for Steve Jackson Games.

John Perry Barlow, perhaps best known as a songwriter for the Grateful Dead… Barlow is a Wyoming native, the third-generation scion of a well-to-do cattle ranching family… In the late 1980s, this Republican rock lyricist cattle rancher sold his ranch and became a computer telecommunications devotee.

The free-spirited Barlow made this transition with ease. He genuinely enjoyed computers. With a beep of his modem, he leapt from smalltown Pinedale, Wyoming, into electronic contact with a large and lively crowd of bright, inventive, technological sophisticates from all over the world. Barlow found the social milieu of computing attractive: its fastlane pace, its blue-sky rhetoric, its open- endedness. Barlow began dabbling in computer journalism, with marked success, as he was a quick study, and both shrewd and eloquent. He frequently travelled to San Francisco to network with Deadhead friends. There Barlow made extensive contacts throughout the Californian computer community, including friendships among the wilder spirits at Apple.

In May 1990, Barlow received a visit from a local Wyoming agent of the F.B.I. questioning him about what he might know about an illicitly copied, small piece of Apple’s proprietary software, software which controlled an internal chip driving the Macintosh screen display. #8

After some thought, Barlow was pretty upset finding himself under federal investigation and began paying close attention to the federal hacker crackdown and noticed several injustices.

Barlow took his and others storys to the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) a huge multiple phonelines paid subscription BBS type service run on a mainframe of a non-profit cultural foundation, in the San Francisco area.

Though the Well was peopled by chattering hipsters of the Bay Area counterculture, it was by no means a “digital underground” board. Teenagers were fairly scarce; most Well users (known as “Wellbeings”) were thirty- and forty-something Baby Boomers. They tended to work in the information industry: hardware, software, telecommunications, media, entertainment. Librarians, academics, and journalists were especially common on the Well, attracted by Point Foundation’s open-handed distribution of “tools and ideas.”

There were no anarchy files on the Well, scarcely a dropped hint about access codes or credit-card theft. No one used handles. Vicious “flamewars” were held to a comparatively civilized rumble. Debates were sometimes sharp, but no Wellbeing ever claimed that a rival had disconnected his phone, trashed his house, or posted his credit card numbers.

Like any community, the Well had its celebrities, and John Perry Barlow, the silver-tongued and silver- modemed lyricist of the Grateful Dead, ranked prominently among them. It was here on the Well that Barlow posted his true-life tale of computer-crime encounter with the FBI. #9

Barlow’s posts on the WELL caught the attention of Mitch Kapor, and led to face to face meetings. It was one of these meeting where digital speech and the extension of the Constitution into Cyberspace, gave birth to Electronic Frontier Foundation, INC.

Barlow wrote the manifesto, “Crime and Puzzlement” announcing his and Kapor’s intention to form a political organization which would “raise and disburse funds for education, lobbying, and litigation in the areas relating to digital speech and the extension of the Constitution into Cyberspace.”

The manifesto also stated the foundation would “fund, conduct, and support legal efforts to demonstrate that the Secret Service has exercised prior restraint on publications, limited free speech, conducted improper seizure of equipment and data, used undue force, and generally conducted itself in a fashion which is arbitrary, oppressive, and unconstitutional.”

” Nevertheless, in the litigations and political debates which are certain to follow, we will endeavor to assure that their electronic speech is protected as certainly as any opinions which are printed or, for that matter, screamed. We will make an effort to clarify issues surrounding the distribution of intellectual property. And we will help to create for America a future which is as blessed by the Bill of Rights as its past has been.” ends “Crime and Puzzlement”
Kapor was willing to put up his money to start the funding of the EFF because of his belief in a right to free speech, free press, against improper seizures, and government oppression.

All of this was written because Wagner’s interview question to Rosedale which basicly asked: Would Linden Lab’s cooperation would extend to authoritarian regimes such as China wanted to investigate residents who’d used Second Life for dissident action?

Rosedale’s answer: “We would have to balance growing Second Life to have the broadest access to people around the world, against preserving those freedoms in a way that maximized the value of the whole community. We will act to maximize benefit to everyone in Second Life, before we will maximize, say, revenues for our company.”

Got me to wondering …. What would Linden Lab CEO Mitch Kapor say?

What are your thought on what Mitch would say, or your thoughts on how Identity, Anonymity, and preserving Freedom in Second Life should be handled? We are at a point, like the period described above, where legal precedents are yet to be set. I would like to know your opinion Mitch Kapor and readers of

A large amount of the knowledge in this post was gained from a fairly well detailed 323 page historical type book called Hacker Crackdown Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier written by Bruce Sterling (ISBN 0-553-08058-X) paperback (ISBN 0-553-56370-X) Bruce Sterling retained the rights to electronically distribution rights and has given everybody the right to distribute the E-book as long as it is not for profit. I have a copy of this E-book which I will happily email to you if you would like to have a copy. Leave your request in the comments section.

Quotes # 1,2,3 Wagner, Mitch. Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale Talks About Identity, Anonymity, and Preserving Freedom In Second Life. Information Week Blog (2007) 24May2007 Mitchell Kapor Biography

Quotes # 8,9 Sterling, Bruce. The Hacker Crackdown Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

May 25th, 2007 • Weirdharold • Blogs, Legal, Second Life 2 Comments »

2 Responses

  1. 1 Darius Sartre:

    Gonna nitpick, but Internet still trades data via TCP/IP. TCP/IP is a network level architecture. Unix doesn’t have anything to do with it except that it was the OS behind it.

    Otherwise, this was really good on background.

    Personally, I think that quote by Rosendale is hokey. Seriously. Maximize freedom and preserving the value of community before revenues? What kind of idiot does he take the rest of the world? 1. Linden is headquartered in the US so subject to US law, regardless of what “freedoms” he wants to push and breaking down international borders. 2. investors only care about “show me the money”. Not “show me the freedoms”.

    As far as what Mitch Kapor would do? hrm. Hard to say. Here’s the way I look at it. Just because he would fund EFF doesn’t necessarily mean that as a backer or investor, he wouldn’t set things aside. When you have money involved as an investment, it’s a lot different than making a political statement. Also, all those things about Well and such was a long time ago. Things might have changed since then.

    Last of all, in looking at Project Gutenberg, Sterling’s book while is free to download, is still copyrighted. Thus, I would tread carefully on redistribution of something that isn’t public domain due to licensing.

    Good job on the research.

  2. 2 Ramblings on Linden Lab’s Legal Position » VTOR - Virtual TO Reality:

    [...] Lab is not obligated to allow either free speech nor freedom of the press, but with people like Mitch Kapor involved with Second Life, I have always believed (I still believe) free speech and freedom of the press [...]

  3. RSS RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment



Read more