Profs demand that Microsoft stop doing business with ICE

Professors from universities across the country are joining a petition demand that Microsoft end its partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The new petition, “An Open Letter to Microsoft: Drop your $19.4 million ICE tech contract,” was written in support of an internal Microsoft employee petition denouncing the company’s association with ICE, which was published in The New York Times in June. 

The new petition cites a January Microsoft blog post announcing the “critical next step” in establishing “cloud-based identity and access” for ICE, which would allow the agency to “process data on edge devices or utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.”

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“As concerned scientists, scholars, and researchers, we condemn the use of technology for inhumane surveillance, detention, deportation, and border militarization,” the letter begins, noting that the signatories are “appalled” by Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

“We call on Microsoft, and all tech firms with ICE contracts, to drop those contracts immediately,” it continues. “Anything short of cancellation constitutes compliance with inhumane, abusive practices.”

“Furthermore, we pledge to never work on technologies that are used for the detention and deportation system,” the professors state later in the petition, adding that “we urge other researchers and scientists to publicly state that they too will never work on technologies used to support this system; and we promise to support the growing movement for ethical technology in our research, in our classrooms, and in the public sphere.”

The new petition has been signed by more than 500 professors, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University, and New York University.

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Microsoft, however, insists that its partnership with ICE has nothing to do with family separation, indicating that the company has no plans to sever its ties with the immigration enforcement agency.

“Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote in a June memo. “Our current cloud engagement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging, and document management workloads.”

“Any engagement with any government has been and will be guided by our ethics and principles,” Nadella continued. “We will continue to have this dialogue both within our company and with our stakeholders outside.”

“We will always stand for immigration policies that preserve every person’s dignity and human rights,” Nadella added. “That means standing with every immigrant who works at Microsoft and standing for change in the inhumane treatment of children at the U.S. border today.”

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