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Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Apple Don’t Rule Out Helping Track Muslims

Donald TrumpDonald Trump
Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Sarasota, Fla. on Nov. 7, 2016. Trump’s disavowal this week of white supremacists who have cheered his election as president hasn’t quieted concerns about the movement’s impact on his White House or whether more acts of hate will be carried out in his name.Photograph by Evan Vucci—AP

In a new report from The Intercept, 8 out of 9 major technology firms either gave no reply or took no position when asked if they would cooperate with the incoming Trump administration in building a national registry of Muslims. Only a spokesperson for Twitter made clear the company would not cooperate.

Microsoft said it was “not going to talk about hypotheticals at this point,” while pointing to company statements on security collaboration between government and the tech industry.

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Booz Allen Hamilton declined to answer the question. IBM, Apple, Google, Facebook, SRA International, and Canada’s CGI did not respond to The Intercept’s inquiry.

The Intercept says it sought answers for two weeks, reaching out to companies via phone and email.

President-Elect Donald Trump and his transition team have waffled on several of his campaign promises, but they seem to still be considering a registry of immigrants from Muslim countries, and possibly of Muslim Americans. Under such a system, immigrants or citizens in a database could be subject to interrogations and other forms of monitoring.

How exactly such a system would work is still unclear, but it’s easy to imagine information harvested from social media, big data analytics, and large-scale database infrastructure being attractive tools for anyone trying to build it.

For more on privacy and security, watch our video.

It’s a bit surprising to see that Apple did not provide a reply to the inquiry, considering the months-long legal battle it waged against the FBI over providing tools to access an iPhone used by a terrorist attacker. The same could be said for Google, whose longtime motto “Don’t Be Evil” was often interpreted as a promise to act responsibly with users’ data.

As The Intercept’s Sam Biddle made clear, providing no answer isn’t the same as “tacitly endorsing” a Muslim registry. But the hesitancy of normally pro-privacy companies to take a position could be seen as an index of a political landscape that has shifted massively.