Tensions within the technology firm reached a boiling point on Tuesday amid national outrage over the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants, which includes taking more than 2,300 children from their parents.
Nadella’s email came after more than 100 employees sent him an open letter demanding that Microsoft cancel its $19.4 million contract with ICE. In a January blog post, Microsoft asserted that it was proud to work with ICE and that it was providing ICE with deep learning technology to aid with facial recognition.
But Microsoft executives are now claiming that its ICE contract does not include facial recognition technology. Gizmodo reported earlier today that Jason Zander, the vice president of Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, told employees on an internal message board that the company’s contract with ICE merely involved email. Nadella echoed these comments in his email to employees tonight.
“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,” Nadella wrote. “Our current cloud engagement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.”
“Like many of you, I am appalled at the abhorrent policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the southern border of the U.S. As both a parent and an immigrant, this issue touches me personally,” he added. “This new policy implemented on the border is simply cruel and abusive, and we are standing for change.”
However, Nadella stopped short of vowing to cancel the ICE contract, as employees had requested in their letter—nor did he explain why the company’s January blog post claimed Microsoft offered facial recognition services to ICE.
In their open letter, employees also asked that Microsoft not do business with clients that violate international human rights law.
Microsoft’s contract with ICE faces fresh scrutiny from employees and the public as ICE has ramped up its efforts to separate children from their parents when crossing the border. Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post this evening that neither of the current bills in Congress—the Securing America’s Future Act and the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018—satisfy the company’s ideals when it comes to immigration.
“There’s been a lot of political rhetoric this week about who is responsible for this separation of kids from their families,” Smith wrote. “As individuals and groups across the country have spoken up to recognize, this practice violates the fundamental humanitarian principles that define us as a people. It needs to end. And if the administration will not end this on its own, Congress needs to do so.”
A source familiar with internal discussions among Microsoft employees said organizers of the protest letter condemned Nadella’s email for inadequately addressing the company’s ongoing work with ICE and the company’s refusal to immediately cut ties with the agency. One Microsoft employee expressed frustration with Nadella’s seemingly contradictory information about the services Microsoft provides ICE. “He still doesn’t explain why the blog post said facial recognition if all we’re doing is legacy mail and calendar and data,” they said.