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Microsoft backtracks on 'proud support' for ICE as blog post goes viral

In January, Microsoft published a blog post touting how ICE used its facial recognition technology.
Image: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the keynote address during the Microsoft Build 2016 Developers Conference in San Francisco
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the keynote address during the Microsoft Build 2016 Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 30, 2016.Beck Diefenbach / Reuters file

Microsoft, facing a backlash over a nearly five-month-old blog post that said it was “proud to support” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, joined the growing chorus of critics Monday calling on the agency to end its child separation policy.

The company's blog post from Jan. 24 touted ICE’s use of Microsoft technology, saying the tech giant was able to “utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification” of immigrants. ICE currently has a government contract with Microsoft, though the details of those services are not public.

The government's "zero-tolerance" border policy, in which children are separated from their parents and housed in different facilities, has become a flashpoint in the ongoing immigration debate. The policy, which the administration announced last month and which President Donald Trump has tried to blame on Democrats, traces back to the early days of the Trump administration in which the Department of Homeland Security discussed ways to deter people from seeking asylum in the U.S.

The blog post was resurfaced recently and went viral on social networks on Monday, leading to calls for a boycott of Microsoft. The post was also quietly changed to delete the phrase “we're proud to support this work with our mission-critical cloud."

The company said in a statement that it “urges the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.”

“As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border," Microsoft said in the statement. "Family unification has been a fundamental tenant of American policy and law since the end of World War II.”

Microsoft has received over $2 million in government contracts from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2018, according to a government records search conducted by NBC News.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that the "mission-critical cloud" portion of the blog post was deleted “after seeing commentary in social media.”

“This was a mistake, and as soon as it was noticed the blog was reverted to previous language,” the spokesperson said.

The Microsoft spokesperson declined to provide any further details on how ICE used its technology.

Many users on social media were quick to point out Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s past statements stressing the importance of immigrants in the U.S.

“We are the beacon of hope for the people who most need it all around the world, and the fact that we stand for [immigration] gives us immense power,” Nadella said in a December appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

A source at the company said that Microsoft “is not working with ICE on anything to do with separating families at the southern border.”

A spokesperson for ICE declined to provide any details on its use of facial recognition.

Meghan Sullivan contributed reporting.