Silicon Valley giants have thousands of US military contracts
Research published by non-profit Tech Inquiry has revealed the extent of the relationship between Silicon Valley and US military and law enforcement, with Microsoft alone having 5,000 previously unreported subcontracts with law enforcement.
The contracts were found through open records requests filed by Tech Inquiry director and former Google researcher Dr Jack Poulson, who resigned following efforts to pressure the company to drop 'Project Dragonfly', which involved developing a heavily-censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market.
Around the same time, reports revealed that Google was building AI surveillance tools for Pentagon drones; a series of employee resignations forced Google to agree not to renew its contract. Employees have been involved in similar protests at Amazon and Microsoft over contracts with the military and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Both Amazon and Microsoft have resisted pressure to drop their contacts with ICE.
Tech Inquiry revealed in its report that the connections between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon run deeper than many people - including many rank-and-file employees - previously knew. The investigation showed that tech giants including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Dell, IBM, HP and Facebook have secured more than 5,000 agreements with US military and law enforcement agencies.
Tech Inquiry analysed more than 30 million government contracts signed or updated in the past five years. It found that the majority of agreements with consumer tech companies involved subcontracts, largely for services such as cloud computing, data processing and app support for which traditional military contractors may lack the capabilities.
These agreements can involve a network of subcontractors, making it difficult to see what services each company is providing.
In an interview with NBC, Poulson explained: “Often the high-level contract description between tech companies and the military looks very vanilla and mundane. Only when you look at the details of the contract, which you can only get through [FOI] requests, do you see the workings of how the customisation from a tech company would actually be involved.”
Microsoft alone has over 5,000 subcontracts with law enforcement agencies signed or updated since 2016. Amazon has more than 350 similar agreements, while Google has more than 250.
Tech Inquiry wrote: “Our analysis shows a diversity of contracting postures, not a systemic divide from Washington. Within a substantial list of namebrand tech companies, only Facebook, Apple and Twitter look to be staying out of major military and law enforcement contracts.”
In a statement, a Google Cloud spokesperson said: “We remain committed to partnering with the government on projects that are consistent with our terms of service, acceptable use policies and AI Principles.”
A Department of Defense spokesperson told NBC News: “We partner with organisations across [the department] – from the services and components to combatant commands and defense agencies – to rapidly prototype, deliver and scale advanced commercial solutions that save lives, inspire new operational concepts, increase efficiency and save taxpayer dollars.”
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