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Microsoft CEO plays down ICE contract in internal memo to employees

Microsoft CEO plays down ICE contract in internal memo to employees

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Photo by Amelia Krales / The Verge

Microsoft has faced widespread criticism after its boasts of working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to help the agency “process data on edge devices or utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.” Social media users discovered the phrasing in a blog post from January, and the statement was briefly removed in error before Microsoft condemned the Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from families crossing the border.

More than 100 Microsoft employees are now calling on Microsoft to cancel its ICE contracts, create a policy to not work with clients that violate international human rights law, and commit to transparency around Microsoft government contracts. “We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE,” say the more than 100 workers in an open letter published by The New York Times. “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has now responded to this growing criticism of ICE contracts in an internal memo to all employees:

I want to be clear: Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border. Our current cloud engagement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.

Nadella doesn’t reference the “deep learning capabilities” for facial recognition that Microsoft originally boasted about six months ago, and he doesn’t commit the company to more transparency around these contracts or not working with clients that directly enable ICE. Nadella doesn’t reference the employee open letter directly, but he does mention Microsoft’s approach to ethics and values.

“Microsoft has a long history of taking a principled approach to how we live up to our mission of empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more with technology platforms and tools, while also standing up for our enduring values and ethics,” says Nadella. “Any engagement with any government has been and will be guided by our ethics and principles. We will continue to have this dialogue both within our company and with our stakeholders outside.”

Separately, Microsoft president Brad Smith penned a lengthy blog post calling for the US “to get immigration right.” Prominent tech CEOs are now denouncing Trump’s border separation policy, with many describing it as inhumane or immoral. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk are among more than 10 tech CEOs who have called for an end to the policy.