Microsoft and Political Harassment in Russia
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.