Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2013.
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2013.
Credit: Flickr Photo/Heisenberg Media/https://flic.kr/p/iedLj7 (CC BY 2.0)

Microsoft faces outrage for blog post touting ICE contract

In a company blog post dated January 24, 2018 — just two weeks after immigration officials raided 7-Elevens across the country to find and arrest undocumented workers — Microsoft general manager Tom Keane touted the company's relationship with the agency that conducted the crackdown: ICE.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had started using a Microsoft cloud-computing service called Azure, Keane explained. The company, he said, was "proud" to support the work of helping ICE "innovate faster."

Now, as ICE enforces family separation at the border, social media users are blasting Keane's post — and the use of Microsoft's servers to help the agency.

"Wow. @Microsoft explicitly and proudly supporting ICE is shocking," former high-level Google privacy and security engineer Yonatan Zunger tweeted last night.

"I know they have a long history of government contracting, and this was probably so natural to their sales department that nobody thought twice, but I expected leadership to know better than this," the tweet continued.

As outrage grew online, a Microsoft employee quietly removed mention of ICE from the January press release this morning. Social media users noticed that, too. The company has since restored the press release's original language, and called its removal a "mistake."

In another statement, a company spokesperson said that Microsoft was "dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border."

The statement continued:

Family unification has been a fundamental tenant of American policy and law since the end of World War II. As a company Microsoft has worked for over 20 years to combine technology with the rule of law to ensure that children who are refugees and immigrants can remain with their parents. We need to continue to build on this noble tradition rather than change course now. We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.

Microsoft declined to respond to a question about whether it would end its Azure contract with ICE over family separations at the border.

Bloomberg.com has reported that Microsoft currently maintains $19.14 million in ICE contracts.

One Microsoft employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that she believed the press release was in poor taste — especially after Microsoft had taken public stands to support immigrants and Dreamers threatened by the Trump administration.

But she didn't think Microsoft should intervene with the clients who use the company's services, she said.

"The way I view it is at Microsoft, Azure is a service, and as long as that service is used for lawful purposes, we don't get involved in how the service is being used," she said. "It's an open internet, because that's the way it should be."

But some in the tech community say Microsoft employees should protest and that Microsoft should sever ties with ICE.

Web developer Mathew Marquis said the news about Microsoft and ICE led him to cancel his own work contract for a Microsoft vendor this morning. That Microsoft subcontract was his primary source of income, he said.

"The absolute least I can do is not continue that," he said, his voice growing quiet. "I mean, they're keeping kids in cages."