Microsoft-backed raids 'suppress dissent' in Russia

Software giant responds to shocking allegations from the New York Times
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The Russian authorities have been using Microsoft anti-piracy investigations as a pretext for seizing computers from political opponents, reports suggest.

According to the New York Times, multiple raids against outspoken advocacy groups and opposition newspapers have occured in recent years, including a raid on Russian environmental activist group Baikal Environmental Wave in which computers were seized by security forces claiming to be searching for pirated Microsoft software.

The report also claims that the actions had been backed from Russian lawyers acting on behalf of Microsoft, rebuffing requests that Microsoft ceases working with Russian authorities. Baikal Wave, the report said, had purchased genuine Microsoft software specifically to avoid the issue.

Baikal Wave requested that Microsoft clarify assist, on the basis of having purchased legal software but Microsoft refused. “They said these issues had to be handled by the security services," said Russian environmental activist Marina Rikhvanova.

Microsoft director of public affairs Kevin Kutz responded by issuing a statement to the New York Times which began: "We take the concerns that have been raised very seriously."

"We have to protect our products from piracy, but we also have a commitment to respect fundamental human rights. Microsoft antipiracy efforts are designed to honor both objectives, but we are open to feedback on what we can do to improve in that regard," said Kutz.

Microsoft said that it was in discussions with human rights advocacy groups on steps which could be taken and set forth a number of action points including increased monitoring, publishing a list of authorized representatives and raising the profile of Microsoft's Infodonor which provides free software to Russian NGOs.

However the New York Times report claimed that Microsoft lawyers had "made statements describing the company as a victim and arguing that criminal charges should be pursued" and that pro-government companies were rarely targetted by the anti-piracy investigations.

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