Some employees of Microsoft and Amazon.com have joined peers in Silicon Valley this week in pledging to never help the U.S. government build a registry designed to target people based on religion, race or other factors.
The “never again” pledge, which has drawn more than 600 signatures, invokes a history genocides carried out, at times, with the cooperation of businesses in identifying victims.
Signatories said they would “refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin.”
The open letter is a response to the election of president-elect Donald Trump, and particularly his campaign-season call for a mandatory registry of Muslims living in the U.S.
“We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies,” the pledge continued.
In addition to the at least eight people who identify themselves as employees of Microsoft or Amazon, signatories include employees of Google, Apple, IBM, Oracle, and a slate of other technology firms large and small. The document, BuzzFeed News reported, was the work of about 30 people, including engineers at Slack and Wave, based in San Francisco and New York, respectively.
The leadership of most of those companies have been silent on the petition and the issues around it.
Some of them, including Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, attended a meeting of technology industry executives with the president-elect on Wednesday. Nadella, along with Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, arrived at Trump Tower in New York a little before 2 p.m. Eastern. Bezos arrived shortly after.
Spokespeople for both companies had declined to acknowledge their executives’ participation in the meeting.
Trump’s upset victory sent shockwaves through the high tech industry, a community that skews liberal on social issues. The president-elect’s campaign included, at various points, calls to shut down the guest worker program that has brought many technology workers to the U.S., as well as comments at odds with the typically inclusive public postures of the companies.
Facebook, which gathers a trove of personal information about its users in the service of selling targeted advertising, on Wednesday said in a statement that no one had asked the company to build a Muslim registry, “and of course we would not do so.”
Microsoft and Amazon declined to comment on the pledge. The President-elect’s transition team didn’t reply to an email seeking comment.
Microsoft, in a blog post by Smith written the day after the presidential election, reaffirmed the company’s commitment to a diverse workforce and inclusive culture.
Kate Crawford, a Microsoft machine learning researcher who has written about ethics in technology, last month took to Twitter to urge technologists to discuss boundaries around data collection and use.
The technology industry already builds tools for predictive policing, refugee tracking, and facial recognition, she said.
“We need to talk about ethics more,” she wrote. “Because developers will be asked to do some seriously awful things in the next four years.”