Developer pulls critical code from tech company after ICE contract revealed

Sick and tired of seeing families torn apart by ICE, one man decided to take a stand by pulling his code from a tech company working with the federal agency. 

On Thursday, software engineer Seth Vargo pulled his open source “Chef Sugar” project from , as well as the Ruby package library, RubyGems. Vargo made the decision to pull the code, which had millions of , after learning that Chef, a company that provides an “automation platform” for infrastructure management, had a software contract with ICE. 

“Chef was found to have entered into an agreement with US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), best known for their inhumane treatment, denial of basic human rights, and detaining children in cages,” said a statement from Vargo on the project’s Github page. “In response, I have removed my code from the Chef ecosystem. I have a moral and ethical obligation to prevent my source from being used for evil.”

Vargo, who previously worked at Chef, went into further detail about his decision in messages to Mashable. 

“Part of Chef’s distribution bundles other’s open source tools,” he said. “I’ve always been aware that some of my personal open source code was bundled in Chef’s distribution.”

“When I learned that said distribution was being sold to and used by ICE – the organization best known for tearing apart families and locking children in cages – I was having trouble sleeping,” he continued. “I reached out to Chef about their ICE partnership and no one responded after 72 hours. I had hoped to take a less disruptive route, but their silence was deafening. Thus I pulled my code.”

His action did indeed disrupt operations for Chef and its customers.

“Today has been a difficult day for the Chef community, our customers, and most importantly you, our employees,” Chef CEO Barry Crist in a company email which was later posted on its blog. “Earlier today, a former Chef employee removed several Ruby Gems, impacting production systems for a number of our customers. Our entire team has worked to minimize customer downtime and will continue to do so until we restore services to 100% operation.”

Its not uncommon for companies to sometimes use open-source code written by third-party developers. The code is licensed to be used and distributed by any party, after all.  It was surprising to Vargo, however, that Chef depended so much on his code.

According to Vargo, Chef later restored an older copy of the code and removed him as the author. The company later restored his name to the code after public outcry.

In a response to a tweet referring to him as “the person who took Chef down,” Vargo .

“I didn’t ‘take them down,'” he wrote. “Their dependencies on 3rd party code ‘took them down.'”

As for Chef’s contract with ICE, its CEO said the company is still going forward with the partnership.

“While I understand that many of you and many of our community members would prefer we had no business relationship with DHS-ICE, I have made a principled decision, with the support of the Chef executive team, to work with the institutions of our government, regardless of whether or not we personally agree with their various policies,” wrote CEO Crist. “I do not believe that it is appropriate, practical, or within our mission to examine specific government projects with the purpose of selecting which U.S. agencies we should or should not do business. My goal is to continue growing Chef as a company that transcends numerous U.S. presidential administrations.” 

“And to be clear: I also find policies such as separating families and detaining children wrong and contrary to the best interests of our country,” he added.

Earlier in the week, a one year $95,000 contract was discovered between Chef and the federal law enforcement agency, which has faced scrutiny under the Trump administration for its treatment of undocumented immigrants and families crossing the border.

In recent years, a of ranging from to Peter Thiel’s have found themselves embroiled in controversy over their relationships with ICE.

“I took a personal stand against my code being used for purposes I perceive as evil,” said Vargo in a message to Mashable. “It’s our personal responsibilities to ensure that our own compasses always point toward truth and justice.” 

“I think there are a lot of developers out there whose code is being used for evil without their knowledge,” he continued. “The question becomes – what do you do when the light shines in? What side of history do you want to be on?”


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