When engineer Seth Vargo discovered that a company using his open-source code was collaborating with US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, he pulled the code from Github. The company, Enterprise Software Maker Chef, discovered that, without the code, his company came to a halt.
Vargo had worked for the Seattle-based company, but until recently he did not know the contract with ICE tech writer Shanley Kane tweeted about it on Monday. ICE, formed under the presidency of George W. Bush in 2003, sparked protests when it flared up deportation and family separation policy under President Donald Trump.
Vargo contacted chefs to better understand their reason for the ICE contract, but received no answer for three days. "It became clear that they had no interest in recognizing their partnership with ICE – the organization that is best known for tearing apart families and locking up children in cages," Vargo wrote in an SMS conversation with The edge.
This morning he decided to get the Github open source project. He knew the company would notice it, but he was surprised that he trusted his code so strongly that it would fail immediately.
"As software engineers, we have to stick to a kind of moral compass," Vargo wrote. "When I heard that my code was being used for purposes that I personally consider malicious, I felt an obligation to prevent it."
Vargo's actions are part of a greater wave of activism among technical workers who have begun to protest against corporate policies and government contracts that run counter to their own moral code. In August, 1,500 Google employees signed a petition requesting to stop working with ICE and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after a border protection contract came to light. When Vargo yanked his code, Chef's employees expressed their support.
props to the Google Engineer who pulled code from Chef for working with ICE. You made my work harder today, but I really don't mind.
– marea rosa (@smrt_fasizmu) September 19, 2019
In a letter to employees, chef Barry Crist acknowledged that employees might feel uncomfortable with the contract:
I do not believe it is appropriate, practical or within our mission to investigate specific government projects with the aim of selecting which American agencies we should or should not do. My goal is to further grow Chef as a company that transcends many US presidential administrations.
The company could not immediately be reached for comment.