More than five dozen Github contributors on Thursday signed a letter threatening to abandon the website unless Microsoft canceled its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract.
Microsoft, which acquired GitHub, the internet’s largest source code repository, for $7.5 billion earlier this month, is one of several tech companies facing heat for its work on behalf of ICE as a result of the Trump administration policy of separating families at the U.S. border.
Members of the GitHub community are now demanding Microsoft end its relationship with ICE or, they say, “we will simply take our projects elsewhere.”
“As members of the open source community and free software movement who embrace values of freedom, liberty, openness, sharing, mutual aid, and general human kindness, we are horrified by and strongly object to the Trump administration’s policies of detainment, denaturalization, deportation, and family separation as carried out by ICE,” the authors wrote.
Microsoft is further facing backlash internally. More than a hundred employees signed a letter on Tuesday asking Microsoft to cancel the $19.4 million ICE contract. “We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, putting children and families above profits,” they wrote.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella downplayed the company’s work on behalf of ICE in a company-wide email Tuesday night. “I want to be clear,” he wrote, “Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border.”
Jason Zander, Vice President of Azure, Microsoft’s cloud service, posted an internal response to the employee letter shortly before Nadella’s email, saying the company was “not doing anything with AI, Cognitive Services, or facial recognition” on ICE’s behalf. However, Zander’s remarks seem to directly contradict a January blog post in which Microsoft boasted that Azure would enable ICE to “utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.”
Whether Microsoft is providing ICE with facial recognition software or not, it has, at the very least, touted its ability to help U.S. immigration officials enhance the capabilities of facial recognition technology.
“I am the grandchild of four Nazi concentration camp survivors,” said New York activist Daniel Sieradski, a web developer who started the GitHub campaign. “My father was a refugee who was born in a displaced person’s camp. My mom was an ‘anchor baby’ whose parents came on visas and overstayed until they were granted citizenship. I’m appalled by this administration’s backwards slide into xenophobia and its dehumanization of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.”
Added Sieradski: “Any entity that is complicit in facilitating these injustices should be named, shamed, and boycotted until they get on the right side of history.”
According to The New York Times, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—which takes custody of the seized children after they’re detained and processed near the border—has now asked the Pentagon to prepare to receive as many as 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on American military bases.
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The full letter by the GitHub contributors to Microsoft is below.
Earlier this year Microsoft proudly announced that it was working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to “deliver such services as cloud-based identity and access” in order to “help employees make more informed decisions faster” and “utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.” (Emphasis added.)
As members of the open source community and free software movement who embrace values of freedom, liberty, openness, sharing, mutual aid, and general human kindness, we are horrified by and strongly object to the Trump administration’s policies of detainment, denaturalization, deportation, and family separation as carried out by ICE.
With Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub, many in the GitHub community were fearful of what new ownership from a company once openly hostile to open source would spell for the future of GitHub, and many of those people chose to leave the site rather than entrust Microsoft with their software. Those of us who remained, because we were willing to give Microsoft a chance to become a steward of the open source movement, will not continue to do so should Microsoft continue to abet the trampling of human and civil rights by this administration and its law enforcement agencies.
We call on Microsoft to end its relationship with ICE and any federal agencies engaged in enforcing the cruel policies of this administration, which is destroying families and jailing asylum seekers, undocumented long-term residents, and even naturalized citizens under threat of deportation. Or, we will simply take our projects elsewhere.
Update, 6/22: Added comment from Daniel Sieradski.