Clifford Levy has an interesting story in The New York Times this morning about the Russian environmental organization Baikal Environmental Wave. Along with other advocacy organizations and certain media outlets critical of the Russian government, they have had their offices raided and their computers confiscated under the pretense of looking for pirated Microsoft software.
In the examples cited by the Times, whether or not these organizations had legal copies of the software was irrelevant because the real reason for the raids was to quash opposition voices. In the case of Baikal Environmental Wave, the government was unhappy with their protests against the Baykalsk Pulp and Paper Mill which pollutes Lake Baikal. Here’s a quote from Levy’s story:
Before the raid, the environmentalists said their computers were affixed with Microsoft’s “Certificate of Authenticity” stickers that attested to the software’s legality. But as the computers were being hauled away, they noticed something odd: the stickers were gone.In all, 12 computers were confiscated. The group’s Web site was disabled, its finances left in disarray, its plans disclosed to the authorities.The police also obtained personnel information from the computers. In the following weeks, officers tracked down some of the group’s supporters and interrogated them.“The police had one goal, which was to prevent us from working,” said Galina Kulebyakina, a co-chairwoman of Baikal Wave. “They removed our computers because we actively took a position against the paper factory and forcefully voiced it.”“They can do pretty much what they want, with impunity,” she said.
The article is quite explicit about Microsoft’s enabling of this harassment of civil society organizations. It’s a cautionary tale for environmental groups given everyone’s dependency on computers these days to do anything. It’s also another good reason to use open-source and public domain software alternatives such as Open Office and Linux. There are also many excellent freeware and low-cost shareware programs available these days, so it really isn’t necessary to depend on Microsoft anymore. This story also provides another good argument for having multiple (including off-site) backups and possibly for using encryption to secure sensitive computer files and databases.