GitHub remembers $200k ICE contract, says ‘yes’ to renewal

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GitHub has become the latest target of developer ire after it emerged it was on the brink of renewing a contract with the US’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The code management platform’s CEO Nat Friedman circulated an email earlier this week outlining its rationale for renewing a $200,000 contract with the agency. The email was quickly leaked, prompting Friedman to post it publicly yesterday. In return, unhappy employees posted their response.

The email duel comes two weeks after Chef has hauled over the coals after it emerged it had a $90,000 deal with ICE, with company bosses zigzagging between defiance and contrition in response.

In his letter, Friedman said “the GitHub leadership team learned about a pending renewal of our product by the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.” The original deal was struck in 2016 through a reseller partner.

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Friedman went onto say “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”. 

He added that parent company Microsoft also opposed the policies, and had backed litigation against legislation targeting immigrants. Microsoft likewise continues to supply products and services to the agency.

But, he continued, GitHub did not know what its products were being used for by ICE, which he said, also did important work in areas like preventing human trafficking. It was elected politician’s jobs to “decide, pursuant to the rule of law, the policies the government will pursue.”

“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,” he wrote.

“A world where developers in one country or every country are required to tell us what type of software they are creating would, in our view, undermine the fundamental rights of software developers,” he said. “Just as Microsoft for more than three decades has licensed Microsoft Word without demanding to know what customers use it to write, we believe it would be wrong for GitHub to demand that software developers tell us what they are using our tools to do.”

GitHub will continue to work to “change the current administration’s terrible immigration policies like the family separation policy and the effort to rescind DACA.” It would donate $500,000 to nonprofits helping immigrant communities being targeted by the current administration.

Friedman’s comments did not cut much ice with its workforce, with a reply quickly popping up, via the Washington Post, arguing that continuing with the contract made GitHub, and its employees, “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 labor. We implore GitHub to immediately cancel its contract with ICE, no matter the cost. Now is the time to take a stand, or be complicit.”

So far, it seems, the standoff continues. Given the vastness of the US government’s IT operations, it seems inevitable other firms will come into the firing line before too long.

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