In 2018, data management is a necessary (and lucrative) business for many tech companies. After all, personal data is used in every aspect of Americans’ daily lives- from renewing drivers licenses to online banking to quickly allowing employers to run background checks for new employees. But one data management partnership that has some Microsoft employees uneasy is the tech giant’s ties to ICE.
Currently, the partnership between Microsoft and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for enforcing federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration as well as promoting homeland security and public safety, is rumored to have a contract price of approximately $19.4 million. While many details of the contract remain confidential, a recent report on Microsoft’s blog states that the new FedRAMP High ATO, the software used by ICE that functions both as infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service offerings, validates that Azure Government meets all security and compliance standards necessary to handle ICE’s most sensitive unclassified data, including data that supports the core agency functions and protects against loss of life. The blog further points out that this software is used by over 20,000 ICE employees in more than 400 offices in the United States and 46 foreign countries.
In recent months, due to the agency’s recent policies of splitting up families at the border as well as unfair policies and inconsistent enforcement, Microsoft employees are pressuring their employer to end the contract. The New York Times published an open letter that was reportedly posted to an internal message board at Microsoft and signed by over 100 employees in protest of the company’s contract with ICE.
The issue is that ending the ICS contract may not be so simple as Microsoft is heavily invested in the operations of many government agencies and processes. This means that the tech giant provides hardware, software, services, and support for approximately 6 million government users across 7,000-plus federal, state, and local organizations. Additionally, government contracts, once signed, as very hard to break.
However, the Trump administration does appear to be caving to pressure from both public and private interests and has recently reversed some of the more controversial policies. Yet the silver lining is that when employees remain vigilant, such as they have at Microsoft, Tesla, and other companies in wake of the ICE controversy, they can use technology to promote positive change.