Company’s cloud contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement draws fire amid divisive row
An increasingly poisonous political row in the United States over the separation of children from their parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dragged in tech giant Microsoft on Monday, with the company facing growing social media blowback for its contract with the law enforcement agency.
Critics pointed to a January 24 blog by the company’s General Manager Tom Keane, highlighting how “proud” the company was to support mission-critical work for ICE, including facial recognition and identification of immigrants.
“ICE’s decision to accelerate IT modernization using Azure Government will help them innovate faster while reducing the burden of legacy IT. The agency is currently implementing transformative technologies for homeland security and public safety, and we’re proud to support this work with our mission-critical cloud,” he wrote.
Wow. @Microsoft explicitly and proudly supporting ICE is shocking. I know they have a long history of government contracting, and this was probably so natural to their sales department that nobody thought twice, but I expected leadership to know better than this. https://t.co/Zr4FWw6GR2
— Yonatan Zunger 🔥 (@yonatanzunger) June 18, 2018
Ex-Google distinguished engineer Yonatan Zunger was among those on Twitter raising the issue of Microsoft’s exposure to the immigration row this week.
He wrote: “Wow. Microsoft explicitly and proudly supporting ICE is shocking. I know they have a long history of government contracting, and this was probably so natural to their sales department that nobody thought twice, but I expected leadership to know better than this.”
Others pointed to the CEO Satya Nadella’s comments on the so-called “Muslim ban” executive order passed by Trump last year.
(The Microsoft leader said in a LinkedIn post at the time: “As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world. We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”)
— Courtney Brousseau 🏳️🌈 (@cbrewsayso) June 18, 2018
The row may prove a storm in a teacup for Microsoft. Most tech companies have some form of defense contract and Microsoft, like every major cloud provider, is understood to be gunning for a piece of the Pentagon’s colossal JEDI cloud migration contact (see our earlier report here).
Yet as the afternoon progressed the issue appeared to be gaining traction, with a growing number of people tweeting the company’s CEO including one of the company’s interns. Contacted by Computer Business Review, Microsoft declined to comment.
Shortly afterwards, the company scrubbed the reference to ICE from its January blog. As Twitter users circulated an archived original version, the company reversed tactics and reinstated the original language, blaming an unnamed employee.
[Updated GMT+1 21.30: With others including Bloomberg and Buzzfeed following Computer Business Review in reporting the story, the company issued a statement saying: “Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border. We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.”]
The Issue By Numbers
Figures from the US Department of Homeland Security show that 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults who are being held between 19 April and 31 May.
No information was given on the age of the separated children. The children are passed into the care of the US Department of Health and Human Services. They are transferred to government detention facilities or foster care while officials try to resolve their case.
The UNHCR and groups like Human Rights Watch have condemned the separations.
A rising number of Republicans have also weighed in, former First Lady Barbara Bush writing in a scathing Washington Post article Sunday: “Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”