While tech industry CEOs were cozying up to Trump, tech workers were modeling what resistance in the industry to the president-elect should look like.
In an extraordinary letter, more than 1,200 employees at big tech firms have pledged 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 workers are explicitly refusing to help the Trump administration build a Muslim registry. Referencing the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans, they state, “We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out.... we stand together to say: not on our watch, and never again.”
The tech workers’ pledge follows letters CCR and 21 other advocacy organizations sent to eight tech industry firms on Monday asking them to “publicly refuse to help build a Muslim registry.” The letters (organized by our friends and partners at Muslim Advocates) were prompted by the firms’ non-responsiveness to an inquiry earlier in the month from The Intercept. Only Twitter affirmatively responded that it would not sell its services to help create a national Muslim registry. Since then, Facebook has said, “No one has asked us to build a Muslim registry, and of course we would not do so.” Google told The Intercept they are working on a response. Five others have not responded at all.
The effort to get Big Tech to say they will not help create a Muslim registry is not an academic exercise. Nor is the creation of such a registry a “strawman,” as a spokesperson for Facebook has claimed.
Kris Kobach, the architect of the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS, a post-9/11 registration program targeting Muslims visiting the U.S. on non-immigrant visas) and an advisor to Donald Trump, was photographed holding a document titled “Plan for First 365 Days,” which listed an updated registration program as one of his top priorities. While inactive now, the regulatory framework for NSEERS is still in place, and CCR is among 200 groups that have called on President Obama to dismantle it before leaving office.
In their letter, the tech workers specifically pledge to 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”; advocate within their organizations to scale back existing datasets that could be abused; and, most notably:
“If we discover misuse of data that we consider illegal or unethical in our organizations: We will work with our colleagues and leaders to correct it. If we cannot stop these practices, we will exercise our rights and responsibilities to speak out publicly and engage in responsible whistleblowing…. [if] our organizations force us to engage in such misuse, we will resign from our positions rather than comply.”
This pledge by tech workers is a model for the resistance to Trump. Like the refusal of Department of Energy staff to turn over to the Trump team the names of staffers working on climate change (reported Tuesday), it demonstrates that collective action within government and corporate institutions can be – indeed, must be – a means to stop the immoral, the illegal, and the unthinkable from happening. Alongside the organizing happening in communities threatened by Trumpism, it is a critical component of the fight to protect our civil rights and civil liberties.
All leaders require the cooperation of people to implement their ideas, proposals, and policies. Under normal circumstances, the power possessed by the mass of ordinary people operating within organizations is not obvious, because carrying out their tasks within the system is routine and uncontroversial. But in times like these – when government workers may be asked to carry out illegal orders, corporate workers may be asked to provide unethical assistance, and citizens may be encouraged to wrongly target their neighbors – recognizing the potential power we all have if we act collectively is crucial.
It takes courage, and often involves risk. But resistance is our civic duty.