Even as their bosses gather round the table with President-elect Donald Trump, a growing movement of tech professionals is pledging never to help him achieve some of his more sinister aims.
Boasting signatories from Silicon Valley giants like Amazon, Google, and Apple, among others, the "Never Again" pledge has become a rallying cry for tech workers frightened at the prospect of their professional expertise being used to collect and retain data for Trump's programs.
"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's website proclaims. "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."
The pledge was created by Wave software engineer Ka-Ping Yee and Slack security engineering manager Leigh Honeywell. Speaking with BuzzFeed News, Yee explained, "What’s important to me is that individuals who care about the ethical use of technology can step forward, show how many of us there are, and say that there are lines we will not cross."
Over 600 people have already signed the pledge, which makes reference to past examples of state sponsored atrocities, and—in the case of the Holocaust—the role IBM played in facilitating such actions. In addition to an overall commitment to stand in solidarity with those most at risk from Trump's policy proposals, signatories also commit to the following concrete actions:
- We 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.
- We will advocate within our organizations:
- to minimize the collection and retention of data that would facilitate ethnic or religious targeting.
- to scale back existing datasets with unnecessary racial, ethnic, and national origin data.
- to responsibly destroy high-risk datasets and backups.
- to implement security and privacy best practices, in particular, for end-to-end encryption to be the default wherever possible.
- to demand appropriate legal process should the government request that we turn over user data collected by our organization, even in small amounts.
- 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 without endangering users.
- If we have the authority to do so, we will use all available legal defenses to stop these practices.
- If we do not have such authority, and our organizations force us to engage in such misuse, we will resign from our positions rather than comply.
- We will raise awareness and ask critical questions about the responsible and fair use of data and algorithms beyond our organization and our industry.
As the pledge organizers note on their website, "Signatories’ references to affiliated organizations below are for identification purposes and are not intended to imply an endorsement by the organization."
Unfortunately for some of these tech workers, their bosses don't seem to have gotten the memo about standing up to Trump. On Wednesday, leaders from companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Oracle—along with other questionable characters such as Peter Thiel—trooped into Trump Tower for a meet-and-greet. There, Trump, flanked by his children, showered praise on the group.
Even so, the organizers of the Never Again pledge do not appear open to backing down from their stand.
"Today we stand together to say: not on our watch," they write, adding resolutely: "and never again."