A month after The New York Times reported that Microsoft was helping the authoritarian Russian government crack down on dissidents, the software giant revealed plans to expand a scheme in which purported software privacy couldn't be used as a pretext for suppression. Now, in addition to aiding dissident groups in Russia by providing them with free, fully licensed software, Microsoft will expand the program to include numerous other countries, including China.

"We clearly have a very strong interest in ensuring that any antipiracy activities are being done for the purpose of reducing illegal piracy, and not for other purposes," Microsoft Deputy General Counsel and Vice President Nancy J. Anderson said. "Under the terms of our new nongovernmental organization software license, we will definitely not have any claims and not pursue any claims against nongovernmental organizations."

This move toward helping dissidents—or, as Microsoft calls them, "nongovernmental organizations" (NGOs)—is the result of backlash in the wake of the New York Times report. The paper claimed that Microsoft was implicitly and explicitly helping the Russian government crack down on dissidents in that country by filing bogus software-piracy complaints against them. These complaints were used as an excuse to conduct raids and seize computers, often on the eve of important public events.

Rather than deny the charges outlined by the New York Times, Microsoft at the time essentially admitted to the activity and said it would "move swiftly to seek to remove any incentive or ability to engage in such behavior." It announced, among other things, a plan to create a new "unilateral software license for NGOs that will ensure they have free, legal copies" of Microsoft products. This would prevent authoritarian governments from using software piracy as an excuse for raiding and harassing dissident groups.

This week, the scheme is being expanded to eight former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Further expansion of the program is possible, Microsoft says.