As part of an ongoing series subtitled “Above the Law”, the New York Times reports that “Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent”:
… 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.
Interviews and a review of law enforcement documents show that in recent cases, Microsoft lawyers made statements describing the company as a victim and arguing that criminal charges should be pursued. The lawyers rebuffed pleas by accused journalists and advocacy groups, including Baikal Wave, to refrain from working with the authorities. Baikal Wave, in fact, said it had purchased and installed legal Microsoft software specifically to deny the authorities an excuse to raid them. The group later asked Microsoft for help in fending off the police. “Microsoft did not want to help us, which would have been the right thing to do,” said Marina Rikhvanova, a Baikal Environmental Wave co-chairwoman and one of Russia’s best-known environmentalists. “They said these issues had to be handled by the security services.”
Microsoft executives in Moscow and at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., asserted that they did not initiate the inquiries and that they took part in them only because they were required to do so under Russian law.
After The New York Times presented its reporting to senior Microsoft officials, the company responded that it planned to tighten its oversight of its legal affairs in Russia. Human rights organizations in Russia have been pressing Microsoft to do so for months. The Moscow Helsinki Group sent a letter to Microsoft this year saying that the company was complicit in “the persecution of civil society activists.” …