Archive for September 2010
Clifford Levy’s recent piece in NYT reports how the Russian police use antipiracy laws to harass the opposition, NGOs and independent media—and how Microsoft helps it happen:
[Advocacy] group [Baikal Environmental Wave] fell victim to one of the authorities’ newest tactics for quelling dissent: confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software.
Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.
As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.
It is understandable why Microsoft prefers to cooperate with the police in such cases: they don’t want to have troubles with the authorities. And despite all the statements about “commitment to respect fundamental human rights” their lawyers ad hoc in many (not all) cases prefer to support the prosecutors’ side, not the defendants’.
I see only one way to put an end to this tactic of persecution and to save the reputation of Microsoft. The software giant should go from words to deeds and really implement a program of providing licensed software to advocacy groups (whether registered with the government or not) and independent media free of charge or for symbolic price. Such a program was mentioned in the article, but there seems to be nothing more to it than just rumors; I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who actually participated in it.
It is not going to be a serious financial loss for Microsoft because such groups and media only make a relatively small portion of the market, and because many of them wouldn’t be able to pay for licensed software anyway. But this program, combined with a more responsible behaviour of the company’s lawyers, could prove that Microsoft is on the side of democracy, not repression.
Earlier this week, two Oborona activists were arrested in Moscow and later released without explanation. Head of the Information Department (i.e. official spokesperson) of Moscow police Col. Viktor Biryukov claimed that it was done to prevent some illegal protest action. He also added proudly that “the police learnt about preparation of this action while reading e-mail communications between Oborona activists.”
It’s not a news that the police monitors communications of the opposition, but it must be the first time it was officially confirmed by a high-ranking police officer. Apart from being antidemocratic and unconstitutional, it also violates the law, which puts rather strict limitations on this kind of activities.
Besides, immediately after Oborona issued a statement on this case and promised to arrange investigation of illegal activities of the Moscow police, Biryukov denied his own words. He said, “the Moscow police only work strictly within the law, and in the case of Oborona activists, their correspondence haven’t been monitored.”
The arrested Oborona activists are going to file a complaint to a prosecutor to demand investigation into Biryukov’s claims.