Late last night, an email leaked to advocacy group Fight For The Future detailing how Github — the code repository Microsoft bought last year for $US7.5 billion ($11 billion) — would be renewing its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency at the forefront of carrying out the Trump administration’s xenophobic war on immigrants that’s left at least seven children dead and tens of thousands more in cages.
As corporations are wont to do, Github issued a blog post to respond to this unfavourable and now-public information by stressing just how much Github absolutely hates renewing the contract for the Github Enterprise Server licence it was under no obligation to renew (but did anyway).
In his own words, here’s Github CEO Nat Friedman (emphasis ours throughout):
Like many Hubbers, I strongly disagree with many of the current administration’s immigration policies, including the practice of separating families at the border, the Muslim travel ban, and the efforts to dismantle the DACA program that protects people brought to the U.S. as children without documentation. The leadership team shares these views. These policies run counter to our values as a company, and to our ethics as people. We have spoken out as a company against these practices, and joined with other companies in protesting them.
Oh, so Microsoft must have twisted Githubs arm on this one —
Our parent company, Microsoft, has also publicly opposed these same policies.
Weird decision to renew this contract then, if both Github and its owner think the agency it’s selling access to is morally compromised and actively carrying out a racist agenda. Who knows, maybe this contract was lucrative and the silver lining is that the money will go towards ending climate change or something.
Both the original purchase, as well as the recent renewal, were made through one of our reseller partners. The revenue from the purchase is less than $US200,000 ($297,000) and not financially material for our company.
Now I’m truly confused. Is anyone else confused?
We will donate $US500,000 ($743,000) — in excess of the value of the purchase by ICE — to nonprofit organisations working to support immigrant communities targeted by the current administration.
Hallmarks of the moral high ground: enabling the exact groups you publicly oppose for negative returns.
GitHub does not have a professional services agreement with ICE, and GitHub is not consulting with ICE on any of their projects or initiatives. GitHub has no visibility into how this software is being used, other than presumably for software development and version control.
They’re really torn up about this, guys.
While ICE does manage immigration law enforcement, including the policies that both GitHub and Microsoft are on record strongly opposing, they are also on the front lines of fighting human trafficking, child exploitation, terrorism and transnational crime, gang violence, money laundering, intellectual property theft, and cybercrime … [the on-premises GitHub Enterprise Server licence] could be used in projects that support policies we both agree and disagree with.
…just absolutely sickened to be a part of this ecosystem of nativist family separation.
As a matter of principle, we believe the appropriate way to advocate for our values in a democracy is to use our corporate voice, and not to unplug technology services when government customers use them to do things to which we object.
Unplugging technology services is one of the few major tools a technology company has at its disposal to oppose the misuse of that technology. One could almost assume Github and Microsoft are not entirely serious in their stance against ICE.
Our voice is heard better by policymakers when we have a seat at the table.
When you consider Microsoft actively seeks — and makes considerable revenue from — government contracts, the maths of a $US300,000 ($446,000) agreement with a loathsome agency in exchange for “a seat at the table” makes a lot more sense. Microsoft does not want to be seen as directly profiting off concentration camps where dozens have already died in U.S. custody. It also doesn’t want to oppose those detention centres vociferously enough to lose contracts to competitors that are less sickened by the business opportunity presented by blood and soil nationalism.
This isn’t solely my read on Github’s limp response, it’s also the opinion of several of the company’s employees who saw fit to write a response to Friedman’s blog post. As their letter, obtained by the Washington Post, states:
GitHub has held a “seat at the table” for over 2 years, as these illegal and dehumanising policies have escalated, with little to show for it. Continuing to hold this contract does not improve our bargaining power with ICE. All it does is make us complicit in their widespread human rights abuses. We cannot offset human lives with money. There is no donation that can offset the harm that ICE is perpetrating with the help of our labour.