Closing the Gates of Democracy
Russia using pretext of pirated software and Microsoft to help stifle dissent
Campaign groups in Russia say the authorities in collaboration with Microsoft are stamping down critics by confiscating computers on the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft Software.
The latest group to fall prey to a raid is Baikal Environmental Wave (BEW), whop have been been mobilising opposition to the government's planned reopening of a paper factory recently closed for polluting lake Baikal. Prime Minister Putin amended legislation in January allowing pollution of lake again which contains 20% of the world's fresh water supply and is home to a rich biodiversity.
Campaigners say that the raids are being used to stifle dissent. BEW say that they deliberately installed legal software to preclude the possibility of such action. Members of the group say that they witnessed at least one employee of the anti-extremism department among the police officers who conducted the raid. This unit regularly keeps tabs of activist groups and Baikal say they have been subject to their surveillance.
According to the New York Times, "the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition parties in recent years".
And it appears that Microsoft are in collusion with the authorities, as lawyers on their payroll have backed the police in their enquiries. The corporation denied actively starting the investigations, stating that they were obliged to co-operate under Russian Law. and has subsequently promised to review its policies in Russia. Yet BEW say that the company refused to help them.
Microsoft's collaboration in spreading the blanket of censorship does stop at Russia. It has previously come under fire for its obedience to internet censorship laws in China: in 2005 Media watchdog Reports Without Borders said it was "disgusted" with the company for its compliance which results in searches including words such as "democracy" and "human rights" automatically rejected.
A study by the OpenNet Initiative also found that in a number of Middle Eastern countries Microsoft's Bing search engine censors searches related to gay and lesbian topics.