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Microsoft yesterday released a statement condemning the forcible separation of families at the U.S. border. The statement was made in response to public criticism of Microsoft after a blog post published earlier this year surfaced. In it, Microsoft’s Azure Government team explained that it was supporting ICE – and was ‘proud’ to do so.

In the statement, Microsoft said:

Microsoft is not working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or U.S. 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. As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border. 

However, despite Microsoft’s comment, it’s clear that Azure Government is being used by ICE. In a post published in January, Tom Keane, a General Manager at Microsoft, wrote:

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.

Clearly, Microsoft is distancing itself from the actions of ICE, but it may be too late. While it’s unclear if Azure Government is being used by ICE as it implements the current wave of child incarceration, the link has already been formed in the minds of the public and Microsoft employees. Keane’s words now have a chilling subtext. When he writes that Azure Government can help ICE employees ‘make more informed decisions faster’ and allow them ‘to utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification,’ it’s hard not to think about how the ‘innovation’ Microsoft is helping government agencies embrace is actually simply supporting state sanctioned violence against children.

ICE has been cosying up to the tech world in 2018. Earlier this year, in April, ICE CTO spoke at a conference hosted by GitHub in Washington D.C. Although the incident was criticised in certain corners, it largely went unnoticed in the public domain. Given Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub in early June, this incident now takes on a new complexion in this strange narrative.

Microsoft faces criticism from employees over relationship with ICE

Gizmodo reported serious dissent from Microsoft employees. One employee told the website “this is the sort of thing that would make me question staying.” Another is quoted as saying that they will “seriously consider leaving if I’m not happy with how they handle this.”

The incident mirrors a number of other cases this year where employees of other major tech firms have criticized their organizations for government contracts. In May, for example, a number of Google employees quit over artificial intelligence ties to the Pentagon.

However it’s likely that things could get worse for Microsoft. For Google, the incident was largely internal. But given horrific reports from the U.S. border, questions around tech complicity in government actions will be propelled to the forefront of international debate.

Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.


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