Microsoft condemns 'forcible separation' of children from families after criticism over work with ICE

Key Points
  • Some people became angry about Microsoft's cloud collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Certain remarks about the work briefly disappeared. Microsoft said that an employee did it and that it was a mistake.
  • The company said it urges Congress to make law that stops the government from separating immigrant children from their parents.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at a company event in New York in May 2017.
Source: Jason DeCrow, AP Images | Microsoft

Microsoft on Monday faced criticism about its work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as the agency came under fire because of separations of immigrant children and their parents at U.S. borders.

The issue reflects the challenge that tech companies face as they seek to gain big customers. Microsoft, Google and Amazon are all working to win government work in their cloud units. Amazon has faced criticism over the use of its image recognition software for the purposes of surveillance, and Google had internal disagreement over its work with the Pentagon.

Now, Microsoft has faced more backlash for its work due to widespread condemnation of the Trump administration's family separation policy.

This weekend, as more details about the detention centers surfaced, people discovered a blog post describing Microsoft's work with ICE, the agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws, and questioned Microsoft's relationship with the agency. One consultant, Mat Marquis, said he had ended his contract with Microsoft in connection with the issue.


But then part of the blog post was deleted, BuzzFeed reported. Microsoft returned the deleted section and suggested its deletion was a mistake.

"An employee briefly deleted the blog after seeing commentary in social media. This was a mistake and as soon as it was noticed the blog was reverted to previous language," a spokesperson told CNBC.

Ultimately, though, Microsoft — which has taken stances on immigration and other political issues before — issued a statement indicating it did not support splitting up families:

As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border. 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 first published details about its work with ICE in January to promote the fact a part of Microsoft's Azure public cloud got a certain type of approval necessary for certain government contracts.

"This [authorization] is a critical next step in enabling ICE to deliver such services as cloud-based identity and access, serving both employees and citizens from applications hosted in the cloud," Tom Keane, general manager for the Azure government business, wrote in a blog post. "This can help employees make more informed decisions faster, with Azure Government enabling them to process data on edge devices or utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification."

Keane added that the company is "proud" to help support the agency's work.

The Trump administration implemented what it calls a "zero tolerance" policy of criminally prosecuting everyone who illegally crosses U.S. borders. The policy results in splitting up migrant children and parents.

Activists, religious groups and bipartisan members of Congress have criticized the separation of families as immoral and inhumane. Many critics have urged Trump to abandon the policy. The president appears to have no intention of doing so, unless Congress acts to end the policy while also passing funding for his proposed border wall and limits on legal immigration.

Microsoft Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith on security & dealing with China
Microsoft Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith on security & dealing with China