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Outraged by the federal government’s treatment of people at the southern U.S. border, a collection of more than 100 Microsoft employees have sent a letter to CEO Satya Nadella requesting that the company end its $19.4 million contract to provide cloud services to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and clients who support ICE, a law enforcement agency attached to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Federal agencies involved with immigration have been under particularly heavy scrutiny recently as the Trump administration has implemented more aggressive policies, like confining kids in cages, separating children and infants from their families, and deporting parents before their kids have been released from confinement.
Few images or sounds from the detention facilities where children are being held have emerged, but on Monday ProPublica published the first bit of audio that demonstrates what it sounds like when a young girl is separated from her father at the border. The clip quickly vent viral and crashed the nonprofit news organization’s website.
“As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit,” the letter reads. “We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”
The letter also asks Microsoft to enact a policy that states it will not work with companies that violate international human rights laws, and references a January statement from Microsoft that proudly announces the contract.
“In a clear abdication of ethical responsibility, Microsoft went as far as boasting that its services ‘support the core [ICE] agency functions’ and enable ICE agents to ‘process data on edge devices’ and ‘utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification’,” the letter says. “These are powerful capabilities, in the hands of an agency that has shown repeated willingness to enact inhumane and cruel policies.”
The letter emerges amid calls from Democrats and Republicans — including every living First Lady of the United States — asking President Trump to end his policy of separating the families of people who enter the United States seeking asylum but fail to declare asylum at a port of entry.
While Microsoft issued a statement Monday stating that it does not agree with any policy that separates families at the U.S.-Mexico border, a company spokesperson declined to state whether facial recognition software was among tools being used by ICE as part of its Azure Government contract, Gizmodo reported.
The letter from Microsoft employees is the latest collective action by employees of a tech giant who feel compelled to protest the business dealings of their employer.
Last week, Amazon shareholders sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos calling for the end of facial recognition software use by law enforcement agencies.
In March, news emerged that more than 4,000 Google employees opposed that company’s participation in Project Maven, a Pentagon initiative to improve drone video analysis and object detection with computer vision. In recent weeks, Google declared it would discontinue the contract with the Department of Defense, and CEO Sundar Pichai declared Google would no longer contribute to projects that use AI for weaponry.
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