'Tell Microsoft to drop ICE as a client or lose us as GitHub users,' say coders

Nearly 100 GitHub coders are asking Microsoft to choose -- them, or US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read

The CEOs of GitHub (far left, Chris Wanstrath) and Microsoft (middle, Satya Nadella), plus Microsoft's vice president of developer services (far right, Nat Friedman).

Richard Morgenstein/Microsoft

Some programmers were a little wary when Microsoft bought the company-agnostic programming platform GitHub for $7.5 billion in early June.

Now, nearly 100 of them are threatening to leave unless Microsoft drops its contract with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, following widespread condemnation of the agency's actions to split up immigrant families at the US-Mexico border, but before President Trump signed his executive order reversing the ICE policy.

Microsoft was actually one of the tech companies that most strongly condemned ICE, in fact, and one of the first to take a stand, saying it was "dismayed" and later publishing blog posts from both CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith on US immigration policy.

But Microsoft also had a reason to speak out early -- after a January blog post revealed the company was supplying ICE with Azure cloud services up to and including "deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification."

(In his blog post, CEO Satya Nadella explained Microsoft was merely "supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads" for ICE with its Azure services, but he didn't address facial recognition.)

Microsoft's explanations apparently weren't enough for many of the company's own employees, who wrote a letter protesting the company's work with ICE, one that The Verge reports is up to 300 signatures now. And they don't appear to be enough for some GitHub coders.

Here's the full letter from GitHub's coders (via Gizmodo):

Tell Microsoft to drop ICE as a client or lose us as GitHub users

Earlier this year Microsoft proudly announced that it was working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to "deliver such services as cloud-based identity and access" in order to "help employees make more informed decisions faster" and "utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification." (Emphasis added.)

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.

With Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub, many in the GitHub community were fearful of what new ownership from a company once openly hostile to open source would spell for the future of GitHub, and many of those people chose to leave the site rather than entrust Microsoft with their software. Those of us who remained, because we were willing to give Microsoft a chance to become a steward of the open source movement, will not continue to do so should Microsoft continue to abet the trampling of human and civil rights by this administration and its law enforcement agencies.

We call on Microsoft to end its relationship with ICE and any federal agencies engaged in enforcing the cruel policies of this administration, which is destroying families and jailing asylum seekers, undocumented long-term residents, and even naturalized citizens under threat of deportation. Or, we will simply take our projects elsewhere.

You can view the current list of signatures right here.

Microsoft declined to comment.