Most businesses do not understand the stakes: Of 9 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump
Sam Biddle reports for The Intercept:
Every American corporation, from the largest conglomerate to the smallest firm, should ask itself right now: Will we do business with the Trump administration to further its most extreme, draconian goals? Or will we resist?
This question is perhaps most important for the country’s tech companies, which are particularly valuable partners for a budding authoritarian. The Intercept contacted nine of the most prominent such firms, from Facebook to Booz Allen Hamilton, to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry, an idea recently resurfaced by Donald Trump’s transition team. Only Twitter said no.
Shortly after the election, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote a personal letter to President-elect Trump in which she offered her congratulations, and more importantly, the services of her company. The six different areas she identified as potential business opportunities between a Trump White House and IBM were all inoffensive and more or less mundane, but showed a disturbing willingness to sell technology to a man with open interest in the ways in which technology can be abused: Mosque surveillance, a “virtual wall” with Mexico, shutting down portions of the internet on command, and so forth. Trump’s anti-civil liberty agenda, half-baked and vague as it is, would largely be an engineering project, one that would almost certainly rely on some help from the private sector. It may be asking too much to demand that companies that have long contracted with the federal government stop doing so altogether; indeed, this would probably cause as much harm and disruption to good public projects as it would help stop the sinister ones.
But the proposed “Muslim registry,” whether it be a computerized list of people from two dozen predominately Muslim nations who enter the country (as revealed in Kris Kobach’s fatuously exposed Homeland Security agenda) or a list of all Muslims in the U.S., is both morally appalling and effectively pointless. In November 2015, asked by a reporter if the country should create “a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country,” Trump replied, “There should be a lot of systems … beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.” The New York Times reported that Trump added he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.” At a rally later that week, he told the crowd, “So the database — I said yeah, that’s all right, fine.” The next day, George Stephanopoulos asked Trump, “Are you unequivocally now ruling out a database on all Muslims?” Trump replied, “No, not at all.” Although Trump attempted to walk back these comments during the campaign, a registry of some form is now back on the table, at least as far as Kobach is concerned.
Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand — pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn’t take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We’d also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that “most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.”)
With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: . . .
The way companies march to the drumbeat of an authoritarian government is well documented. Today I read this post on Facebook:
When I was in 7th grade, our teacher put on a video and told us to take notes. Ten minutes in, she threw the lights on and shouted at Steven Webb Sladki, telling him he wasn’t taking notes and he should have been. But the thing was, Steve was taking notes. I saw it. We all saw it. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to stand up for Steve. A few of us choked out some words of defense but were immediately squashed. Quickly, we were all very silent. Steve was sent to the principal’s office. The teacher came back in the room and said something like “See how easy that was?” We were reading “Anne Frank.” I started to understand. I just thought now was a good time to share this story. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.
The same thing virtually all corporations are doing: collaborating in the compromise of our Constitutional values.