The Industry

Microsoft Touted Its Work With ICE in January. Now Its CEO Is Downplaying It.

Nadella asserted that the contracts have nothing to do with family separation.
Nadella asserted that the contracts have nothing to do with family separation. GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella responded Tuesday to mounting internal and external criticisms of the company’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in light of the recent furor over the Trump administration’s family-separation policy. Microsoft first became the target of scrutiny after people unearthed a Jan. 24 blog post from general manager Tom Keane, which outlined how government agencies including ICE had entered into contracts to use Microsoft’s Azure Government cloud technology. The company temporarily removed references to ICE from the post on Monday before restoring it to its original form and issuing a statement in opposition to the separations. More than 100 Microsoft employees then signed and sent an open letter to Nadella on Tuesday calling on him to end the company’s work with ICE.

In a companywide email that Nadella subsequently published on LinkedIn later on Tuesday, he condemned the zero-tolerance separation policy as “abhorrent” and noted, “As both a parent and an immigrant, this issue touches me personally.” Yet he shied away from making any commitments concerning the ICE contracts and characterized them as unrelated to the current controversy:

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. Our current cloud engagement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.

As the Verge points out, Nadella’s assertion that Microsoft is only working with ICE on clerical matters would seem to contradict its January blog post in which the company claimed it was helping the agency “utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.”

A chorus of tech CEOs—including YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, Apple’s Tim Cook, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—have called for an end to the family-separation policy. Nadella has now joined this group, though, as Bloomberg reported, Microsoft has $19.14 million in active contracts with ICE.