Open source luminaries turn up spotlight on GitHub over ICE deal

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An open letter to Git Hub demanding that it drop its controversial contract with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was heading towards 400 signatures from open source maintainers and developers as of Friday.

The open letter, posted, naturally, on GitHub, referenced a previous open letter four years ago that lit a fire under the company and forced to fix a range of issues that had been troubling users.

“Now, we are asking you to help again,” the signatories wrote, going on to say that as it enforces the Trump administration’s immigration policies, ICE “is actively committing numerous crimes and human rights violations, in contravention of both US and international law”.

“At the core of the open source ethos is the idea of liberty,” the letter writers say. “Open source is about inverting power structures and creating access and opportunities for everyone.”

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“We want to know that the platform we have invested so much of our time and energy in is operating in a way that is consistent with the values of open source software development.”

They call on GitHub to “immediately cancel your contract with ICE” and “commit yourself to a higher ethical standard with all of your business dealings, and share that standard with the open source community, the same way you do with your Terms of Service and other community standards.”

The letter, appeared as the Microsoft-owned repo manager saw another high profile staffer resign in protest at the vendor’s stance. 

GitHub developer advocate Don Goodman-Wilson took to Twitter, saying the firm’s management had failed to tackle the “ethical ramifications” of how it does business, and that, “I am deeply concerned about the damage to my own reputation from defending GitHub, about perpetuating the erosion of GitHub’s goodwill in the community, and most of all that through my work I am contributing to an unjust society. “

So far, GitHub has not responded to this latest call for action. Chef, when called out on its contract with ICE this autumn, initially stood firm before announcing it would nix contracts with ICE and Customs and Border Patrol.

With a number of signatories on this week’s letter being maintainers of key projects and/or holding down jobs in other software suppliers, it’s fair to assume this issue is not going away. 

The US government is not the only organisation the world with both questionable policies and big budgets to buy software and tech services.  So, presumably other software companies doing business with the US and other governments must surely be preparing for enhanced scrutiny from the software development community in 2020.

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