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Google staff petition cloud giant against working with US border force agencies

More than 600 Google staff have signed a petition, urging the cloud giant not to participate in a bidding war with its rivals to secure US border agency datacentre consolidation-related contract

Hundreds of Google employees have signed a petition urging the company to publicly commit to denying several US government entities access to its cloud infrastructure over their alleged involvement in human rights abuses.

The petition has been drawn by Google employees up as a pre-emptive response to the publication of a notice of intention by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in July 2019 to solicit bids from the cloud provider community to support its plans to downsize its datacentre footprint.

In an accompanying blog post, attributed to the No GCP [Google Cloud Platform] for CBP movement, the group claim whichever cloud provider secures that contract will be complicit in enabling the alleged human rights abuses that are currently taking place at the Southern Border of the United States.

“They are caging and harming asylum seekers, separating children from parents, illegally detaining refugees and US citizens, and perpetrating a system of abuse and malign neglect that has led to the deaths of at least seven children in detention camps. These abuses are illegal under international human rights law, and immoral by any standard,” the blog post stated.

By bidding for that contract, and – in turn – asking its staff to work on the delivery of it, the company and its employees would be effectively aiding and abetting these alleged abuses, which is not something they would be prepared to do, the blog post continued. 

As a result, its staff are calling on Google to publicly declare that it has no intention in supporting the CBP’s efforts to consolidate its datacentres by bidding for the deal.

The CBP is also working alongside a couple of other government entities to police the border, namely the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Office of Refugee Resettlement teams, and Google’s employees are also urging the company to deny them access to its services as well.

“The winning cloud provider will be streamlining CBP’s infrastructure and facilitating its human rights abuses,” the blog post said.

“We demand that Google publicly commit not to support CBP, ICE or ORR with any infrastructure, funding or engineering resources, directly or indirectly, until they stop engaging in human rights abuses.”

At the time of writing, more than 670 Google employees have put their name to the petition and blog post, along with 48 supporters from outside of the company.

If Google does decide to bid for the contract or support the work of the CBP, ICE or ORR in another way, the company would be putting profit ahead of its integrity, the blog post continues, and would become complicit their alleged abuses through association.

“It is unconscionable that Google, or any other tech company, would support agencies engaged in caging and torturing vulnerable people. And we are not alone — the world is watching and the facts are clear. We stand with workers and advocates across the industry who are demanding that the tech industry refuse to provide the infrastructure for mass atrocity,” the blog post concluded.

Computer Weekly contacted Google for a comment on this story, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

This is not the first time Google’s staff have put pressure on the tech giant to ensure its technologies are not deployed in situations that directly or indirectly contribute towards human suffering or discrimination.

The company is understood, for example, to have ducked out of the race for the US government Department of Defense’s $10bn Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) after its staff raised concerns over the fact it would mean its technologies would support the loss of human life in combat situations.

The company has also previously gone on record to discuss its refusal to sell its artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition technology application programming interfaces (APIs) until measures and policies are put in place to ensure it cannot be used nefariously.

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