Microsoft’s attempts to downplay its work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hasn’t stopped internal dissent, with some employees still confused and concerned about the scope of the services the company provides to the agency. Meanwhile, the chorus from the rank and file is growing: the letter denouncing the company’s cooperation with ICE now has over 300 signatures.
The uproar started on Monday. As the public condemned the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families, social media users discovered a January blog post, in which Microsoft said it was offering cloud services to ICE and was “proud” of the work. The company said the services could “help employees make more informed decisions faster,” such as “enabling them to process data on edge devices or utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.”
Employees denounced working with ICE in an open letter
In response, an open letter posted by more than 100 employees was published internally and by The New York Times. “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit,” reads the letter, which asks that Microsoft cancel any ICE-related contracts.
Soon after, CEO Satya Nadella released a statement publicly as well, saying the company’s work with ICE was “supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads,” and that “engagement with any government has been and will be guided by our ethics and principles.” Nadella did not explicitly state that those were the only services provided to ICE, but added that the company was not involved in programs where children were separated from their families.
Still, the words haven’t been sufficient for everyone at the company. “Right now, statements are being made, but there is not action behind it,” a Microsoft employee told The Verge. The company declined to comment.
Among the outstanding questions for staff: what, exactly, was the company describing when it was talking about powering facial recognition? And regardless of what work it’s doing, should the company be providing services to the agency in any capacity?
“I think that working with ICE in any sort of way — we shouldn’t, we should pull out of that contract,” an employee said. Nadella’s post did not address facial recognition at all, leaving some employees wondering why.
“I think that working with ICE in any sort of way — we shouldn’t.”
Though the current signatories still represent a relatively small contingent of a company that employs about 120,000 individuals, their number is growing as worries spread across departments. “There are a lot of people even beyond the 300 or so that have signed that are very, very upset with what’s happening and are not okay with the responses that have been received,” one employee said.
While the Trump administration has signaled that it will begin detaining families together rather than separating children from parents, pressure is still building from the outside as social media campaigns continue to follow the company. One employee noted that when Microsoft recently announced it was acquiring the code repository GitHub, the clamor over a major corporation acquiring a darling of the open internet could have caused massive controversy. Instead the company mostly escaped widespread criticism. Suddenly, the situation looks vastly different.
“In a week they managed to wipe away all the goodwill in a second,” the employee said, “and I think that’s what really stands out to me and makes me worried, for lots of reasons.”