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Developers join call for GitHub to cancel its ICE contract

Johana Bhuiyan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Since at least September, employees of GitHub have been pressuring the Microsoft-owned code repository to terminate its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, without success. Now they're getting reinforcements from a constituency that could have more clout.

In an open letter published Wednesday on GitHub, software developers representing the open source community joined the call for GitHub to immediately cancel the $200,000 contract with ICE.

"Open source is about inverting power structures and creating access and opportunities for everyone," the letter, signed by 44 developers at the time of publication, reads. "We, the undersigned, cannot see how to reconcile our ethics with GitHub's continued support of ICE. Moreover, your lack of transparency around the ethical standards you use for conducting business is also concerning to a community that is focused around doing everything out in the open."

Open source software is made up of source code that is free to be used, distributed and modified by anyone; examples include parts of the Firefox browser and the Ethereum blockchain. Although much of the code stored on GitHub is open source, the rest of it is often stored privately or available only for a licensing fee.

Notably, the developers behind the letter stop short of threatening to boycott the platform, which plays an increasingly indispensable role in projects that require collaborating around code. Some say they now feel they're stuck with a company they are no longer morally aligned with.

In airing their demands openly, the developers borrow a tactic that has worked in the past. Four years ago, hundreds of unsatisfied open source contributors put their names to a letter, titled Dear GitHub, criticizing the company for ignoring their requests for new features and fixes for broken ones for years. The company went "above and beyond" to remedy their issues, according to the newly published letter.

 

GitHub pays careful attention to its open source contributors, said Don Goodman-Wilson, who worked as a developer advocate at the company.

The Dear GitHub letter "has been quite influential on the way that we approach product design," Goodman-Wilson, whose job entailed persuading people to use the company's open source services, said. "We have teams that work specifically on features for open source developers. They don't pay for our software. There's not money to be made in doing this, but we take it very seriously nonetheless."

On Monday, Goodman-Wilson tendered his resignation, saying he felt he could not ask developers to use the platform given GitHub's contract with ICE.

"I am deeply concerned about the damage to my own reputation from defending GitHub," he wrote in a letter to his co-workers. "Leadership has made clear to me personally that they will not change course."

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