Wednesday, 20 June 2018 12:12

Microsoft workers want end to deal with agency behind child separation

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Microsoft employees are protesting their employer's working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of the agency's separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexico-US border.

The New York Times reported that more than 100 workers had posted a letter addressed to chief executive Satya Nadella on the company's internal message board, saying in part: "We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits."

The letter pointed to a blog post where there was praise for the company's US$19.4 million contract with ICE.

On Monday, Microsoft was caught changing language in this blog post, which it put up in January.

"ICE's decision to accelerate IT modernisation using Azure Government will help them innovate faster while reducing the burden of legacy IT," the post read. "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."

When it was caught out, the company quickly backtracked and restored the text to its original version.

The employees' letter termed the separation of children from their families "inhumane".

"As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit," they wrote.

"We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognise the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm."

They asked the company to:

  • "Cancel the existing Azure Government contract with ICE immediately.
  • "Draft, publicise, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Microsoft nor its contractors will work with clients who violate international human rights law.
  • "Commit to transparency and review regarding contracts between Microsoft and government agencies, in the US and beyond."

Microsoft said in a statement it was "not working with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or US Customs and Border Protection on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border, and contrary to some speculation, we are not aware of Azure or Azure services being used for this purpose".

Last month, a dozen Google employees quit the company to protest against its involvement in a Pentagon initiative named Project Maven where Google's AI technology was being used to improve targeting by drones.

Google later said that it would not renew the contract to work on Maven, but gave no assurance that it would keep out of future similar projects. The search giant is bidding to participate in a big Defence Department deal worth US$10 billion.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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