Pre-empting any efforts by the incoming Trump administration, a group of technology workers in Silicon Valley released a signed pledge on Dec. 13 refusing to cooperate with potential proposals build a Muslim registry or aid in “mass deportations” of people targeted by the US government.
The 60-person group includes engineers, designers, and business executives it says are responsible for “processing data about people” at companies such as Google, Stripe, IBM, PlanetLabs and smaller startups. “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,” they wrote in a pledge published at NeverAgain.tech.
“We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable.”
Trump has not fully retracted his early support for a registry. In November, 2015, in reply to a reporter’s question about building “a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country,” Trump said “there should be a lot of systems … beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.” The New York Times later reported that Trump confirmed that he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a strong proponent of anti-immigration policies and a reported advisor to Trump’s transition team, said days after Trump won the election that an immigration policy group had discussed reinstating a registry for immigrants from certain Muslim countries, something that had been put into effect after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. That registry, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, was abandoned in 2011 under the Obama administration.
The technology group’s document cast its opposition in historical terms, noting technology’s role in millions of deaths during the Holocaust, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and other atrocities. “We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out,” it states. “Today we stand together to say: not on our watch, and never again.”
At the moment, the pledge seems to be an informal effort without formal corporate backing. Leigh Honeywell, a security engineering manager at Slack, who helped organize the pledge told BuzzFeed News that the idea for a pledge came out of “informal discussions among techie friends.”
Silicon Valley seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach before making public pronouncements. A “tech summit” will be held with Trump on Dec. 14 that includes Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google CEO Larry Page and perhaps Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, along with other firms, reports Recode.
Earlier this month, The Intercept asked nine major tech companies including Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google and others if they would “sell any goods, services, information, or consulting” to help create a registry, and only Twitter explicitly confirmed it would not. It’s not clear if the Trump administration, should it choose to build a registry, would need these companies to carry it out, or whether such an effort will be public.