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Amazon and Microsoft are under serious pressure to kill surveillance contracts with ICE

Published Jun 22nd, 2018 10:31AM EDT

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Donald Trump rescinded the order to separate migrant children from their parents at the border, a mess his administration caused in the first place, but people are still enraged — and rightfully so. Many leaders from the tech world voiced their deep concerns with the disturbing policy before it was canceled, but some of these companies still provide assistance to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Business is business, some will be quick to point out, but it sure looks like people aren’t going to let this heartlessness fly. Specifically, ICE’s surveillance contracts with Amazon and Microsoft are the drawing intense criticism, and not just from outside the companies.


Amazon employees penned a letter to Jeff Bezos urging the CEO to cut ties with ICE. Amazon provides the agency with direct access to its Rekognition facial recognition software. But it also offers support, via its AWS business, to Palantir, a tech company founded by Peter Thiel. Palantir has a contract with ICE too, providing predictive policing tools, according to Gizmodo. Of course, we would expect nothing less from one of Thiel’s companies.

Amazonians are “deeply concerned” that Amazon is “implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS.” The employees even cited IBM’s assistance to Hitler’s extermination programs as a precedent that should not be forgotten.

“Our company should not be in the surveillance business; we should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations,” they say.

The full letter is available at this link.


Microsoft is also facing harsh criticism from within, as employees voiced their concerns about the company’s contract with ICE a few days ago. But there’s also a new category of engineers protesting against Microsoft’s business deals with the agency, and that’s developers who are hosting their projects on GitHub. Microsoft just acquired the company for $7.5 billion.

In a letter, more than 60 GitHub contributors said they’ll abandon the site if Microsoft doesn’t cancel its ICE contract.

“As members of the open source community and free software movement who embrace values of freedom, liberty, openness, sharing, mutual aid, and general human kindness, we are horrified by and strongly object to the Trump administration’s policies of detainment, denaturalization, deportation, and family separation as carried out by ICE,” the letter’s authors wrote.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella condemned Trump’s actions earlier this week. “Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border,” the top Microsoft exec said.

But the company downplayed its work with ICE. In an internal response, Microsoft’s vice president of Azure Jason Zander said that Microsoft is “not doing anything with AI, Cognitive Services, or facial recognition.” But in a January blog post, Microsoft said that Azure would let ICE to “utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.”

The full letter to Microsoft is available at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.