If you stand against Russia's de facto dictatorship, you have an enemy besides Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: Microsoft. According to a New York Times report, the Russian government is using a new tactic "for quelling dissent: confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software." Furthermore, the Russian state is doing this with the help of Microsoft's Russian attorneys.
The New York Times reports that Microsoft doesn't start these inquiries and does only what they're required to by Russian law. But the dissidents, ranging from environmentalists to journalists, tell a different story. "Without the participation of Microsoft, these criminal cases against human rights defenders and journalists would simply not be able to occur," said Russian newspaper editor Sergey Kurt-Adzhiyev.
Microsoft doesn't merely, quietly allow the Russian government to seize computers in the name of software thief. Instead, Microsoft ignores requests for help from the targeted companies and instead provides "testimony to the police about the value of the software that Baikal Wave [an environmentalist group] was accused of illegally obtaining."
Faced with these accusations, Microsoft public relations said that it would make sure its Russian lawyers would have "more clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities." Microsoft also stated, "We have to protect our products from piracy, but we also have a commitment to respect fundamental human rights." Tell that to the groups in Russia that have their records ripped open and destroyed.
The MS - Russia Connection
Preston Gralla: Is Microsoft helping Russia crack down on dissidents?
Richi Jennings: Microsoft "complicit" in Russian dissident crackdown
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Microsoft's newest partner: Russia's Vladimir Putin
I understand that international companies have to work with governments they may not like. Research in Motion (RIM) has had to open BlackBerry messages to Saudi Arabia's government. Google and China are still fighting over how much access the Chinese people can have to non-censored search results. And in our own country, Craigslist has self-censored it adult services ads rather than continue to fight legal challenges from 17 states. There's no doubt about it: free-speech on the Internet is in danger.
But in all these other cases, the companies have at least tried to preserve their user's rights to privacy and free speech. Microsoft, though, appears to have been working hand-in-glove with its Russian partner.
And people wonder why I recommend Linux over Windows! With Linux, you own your software. The police of any country can always find an excuse to take your computer, but at least with free and open-source software, they won't have the tacit support of the programs' creators.