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NYT: Microsoft is Helping Russia Suppress Dissent

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 21 comments

A recent report in the New York Times suggests that Russia is using Microsoft's strict anti-piracy policy as a way to carry out raids and confiscate computers from dissident groups.

In an article published over the weekend, the New York Times' Cliffor J. Levy describes what he calls Russian authorities' newest tactics for quelling dissent: Russian police are apparently using piracy investigations as a way to confiscate computers from advocacy groups. Levy reports that though Russian security officials say the raids are a reflection of their concerns about the genuinely high level of piracy in Russia, they rarely, if ever, carry out raids on groups or parties that support the government.

Though this in itself is a worrying trend, the most unsettling part of the report is not that this is happening, but that Microsoft is allegedly helping the Russian authorities in these raids. In one instance, environmental group Baikal Wave purchased legal Microsoft software in an effort to avoid raids based on piracy investigations but were raided regardless of this fact. When they asked Microsoft for help, the computer giant refused.

"Microsoft did not want to help us, which would have been the right thing to do," NYT cites Marina Rikhvanova, Baikal Environmental Wave co-chairwoman as saying. "They said these issues had to be handled by the security services."

Raids on Baikal Wave's offices took place in January, when the group was organizing protests against Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to reopen a paper factory that had polluted nearby Lake Baikal.

Microsoft has since released a statement responding to the report and says it is taking the issues brought to light by the New York Times seriously.

"When we grant powers-of-attorney to outside counsel to aid our antipiracy efforts, we vet candidates carefully, we bind them contractually to strict standards and protocols, we train them and we monitor their activities," said Kevin Kutz, Director of Public Affairs at Microsoft. "They are accountable to us, and if their actions do not comport with professional ethics, anticorruption laws, or Microsoft policies, we terminate our relationship with them."

Kutz goes on to say that Microsoft ensures due process is followed in antipiracy cases that involve Microsoft products, and that the case involving Baikal Wave was no different. Redmond says it will take a number of steps to improve the situation in Russia:

- Increase monitoring and training of the local counsel who have powers of attorney for our antipiracy program, with more clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities.

- To prevent individuals or organizations from fraudulently claiming to represent Microsoft, publish on our Russia Web site the names and certifications of authorized representatives.

- Increase awareness of Microsoft’s Infodonor program among NGOs in Russia, particularly outside the capital cities. This past March we held an NGO Roundtable with Russian NGOs to describe the Infodonor program — which makes software available to NGOs with no charge by Microsoft — and to explain our antipiracy policies. While some human rights organizations have already benefited, there are many more like the Youth Human Rights Movement who have expressed interest in participating. We will reach out to Y.H.R.M. and any other group interested in Infodonor and we will continue our engagement with human rights NGOs and others to gather feedback on ways to improve our antipiracy program.

Check out the full statement here.

Read the full NYT story here.

[UPDATE] Microsoft's Brad Smith today blogged about the New York Times article and said that as General Counsel for Microsoft "it was not the type of story that felt good to read." Smith went on to say Redmond would move quickly to remove any ability to "leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain."

Whatever the circumstances of the particular cases the New York Times described, we want to be clear that we unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain.  We are moving swiftly to seek to remove any incentive or ability to engage in such behavior.

Smith writes that the first step toward change is accepting responsibility and assuming accountability for the company's anti-piracy work, the good and the bad. Smith says that though specific facts regarding the issues discussed have yet to be determined, Microsoft will be hiring an international law firm that has not been involved in the anti-piracy work to conduct an independent investigation.

Microsoft also said it will help protect non-government organizations from raids like the ones detailed by the New York Times by creating a new unilateral software license for NGOs that will ensure they have free, legal copies of Microsoft products. As a further aid to NGOs, Smith says Microsoft is creating in Russia a new NGO Legal Assistance Program focused specifically on helping NGOs document to the authorities that this new software license proves that they have legal software.

Check out Brad Smith's full blog post here.

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    zachary k , September 13, 2010 11:52 PM
    the title makes it sound like bill gates himself is down there in russia kicking down doors.
  • 13 Hide
    neblogai , September 13, 2010 11:35 PM
    Nothing strange, law enforcement in Russia is exactly like that. Basically, laws are made poorly, often being absurd, to have everyone break them. Such system of "bardak" (chaos) works perfectly. Everyone can be found guilty for breaking some absurd law, and then power structures can deal with a person by their own wishes. Milicia(police) might treat you bad just for fun, but if you are anti-government- special services will come down on you with every tool they need to crush you.
  • 10 Hide
    Stifle , September 14, 2010 12:12 AM
    Bill Gates himself IS down there in Russia kicking down doors. News at 11.
Other Comments
    Display all 21 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    zoemayne , September 13, 2010 10:46 PM
    Cisco is doing the same.
  • 9 Hide
    Anomalyx , September 13, 2010 10:59 PM
    Wow, that was a totally different spin on the story. From what I read elsewhere, Microsoft just issued a blanket license to those NGOs to HELP them avoid the ridiculous raids. This story says just the opposite.
  • -2 Hide
    jhansonxi , September 13, 2010 11:22 PM
    I doubt that M$ is complicit in the raids. If they were then Apple and Linux users would have been the targets.
  • -6 Hide
    Anonymous , September 13, 2010 11:34 PM
    Me: Microsoft is helping the US suppress dissent.


    The Microsoft monopoly is one of the biggest threats to personal freedom in modern times, they are very cozy with the Feds who allow them to have their monopoly.
  • 13 Hide
    neblogai , September 13, 2010 11:35 PM
    Nothing strange, law enforcement in Russia is exactly like that. Basically, laws are made poorly, often being absurd, to have everyone break them. Such system of "bardak" (chaos) works perfectly. Everyone can be found guilty for breaking some absurd law, and then power structures can deal with a person by their own wishes. Milicia(police) might treat you bad just for fun, but if you are anti-government- special services will come down on you with every tool they need to crush you.
  • 14 Hide
    zachary k , September 13, 2010 11:52 PM
    the title makes it sound like bill gates himself is down there in russia kicking down doors.
  • 10 Hide
    Stifle , September 14, 2010 12:12 AM
    Bill Gates himself IS down there in Russia kicking down doors. News at 11.
  • 3 Hide
    Netherscourge , September 14, 2010 12:14 AM
    In Soviet Russia, Microsoft makes YOU BSOD!
  • 1 Hide
    micr0be , September 14, 2010 1:28 AM
    all they had to do was use linux ... problem solved
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , September 14, 2010 2:45 AM
    you can't always train and old dog new tricks, but you also can't expect an old dog to forget the old tricks

    wtf do you expect, it's RUSSIA, china is worse but only if it hurts china, but... piracy in china is typical and standard business practice, always has been, and i don't see that changing anytime soon. in either case if i'm microsoft, in both of those countries whose piracy of my product is a typical normal problem that's costing me millions of dollars, hell i'd train the ex KGB how to find and what to look for myself. that kind of action has a karma that will come back to bite them in the... as well later on down the line.
  • 1 Hide
    intelliclint , September 14, 2010 4:33 AM
    NPR had this to, but they made more of a point of what was at the end of this artical whihc is that MS will give them a blanket licence for any Russian NGO. Basicly Russia will have to find another way to silence those that speak out against the govenrment.
  • -1 Hide
    eddieroolz , September 14, 2010 4:50 AM
    I have a hard time believing something along these lines.
  • 0 Hide
    tommydyhr , September 14, 2010 5:03 AM
    "unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain. "
    ¨
    I'm from Denmark, and my response to this bit would equal to: "Qué?"
  • 0 Hide
    dEAne , September 14, 2010 6:35 AM
    spy then this one, what next.
  • 7 Hide
    cookoy , September 14, 2010 6:57 AM
    What? Dissent in Russia? No way. Everybody loves Putin.
    Ok now that i said that, can i have my PC back please?
    Pretty please?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 14, 2010 9:12 AM
    Marriage made in heaven -- big oppressive corporation meets big oppressive regime.
  • 1 Hide
    scurvywombat , September 14, 2010 11:50 AM
    The story I heard on NPR had a different spin, that MS was more concerned with the actual distributors of pirated software and really weren't too concerned about little NGO's.
  • -4 Hide
    treyking11 , September 14, 2010 2:16 PM
    See? Micro$oft IS the tool of the devil. SUCK IT, PC FREAKS!
  • 1 Hide
    itpro , September 14, 2010 8:06 PM
    Consider the source. The New York Times ceased being a serious news source many years ago. I put more credence in the National Enquirer than the NYT these days.
  • 1 Hide
    alextheblue , September 16, 2010 4:26 AM
    itproConsider the source. The New York Times ceased being a serious news source many years ago. I put more credence in the National Enquirer than the NYT these days.

    No joke. Research? Sources? You mean you need some kind of proof before you claim a company is complicit in crushing dissent!? WTFBBQ
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