On Dec. 11, engineers in Salesforce’s government division gathered on Google Meet for an unusual meeting. It was a Saturday, and the huddle had been organized quickly.
It’s fair to say most attendees were not expecting what came next. Salesforce executives wanted those employees to agree to and sign a more than 1,000-page legal document in the next 24 hours that, among other things, would allow Salesforce to share their personal information externally.
The fast signatures were necessary if the software giant was to move forward with a new law enforcement customer: the New York City Police Department, according to sources familiar with the situation and emails reviewed by Protocol. An NYPD spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“We apologize for the tight timeline and realize we are asking for your help on the weekend,” former Chief Trust Officer Jim Alkove wrote to employees.
The signatures were also necessary for the employees to continue working in the government division. The warning from the top was clear: Those who didn’t sign would have to move to a different department.
The document in question dealt with a covert hurdle the technology industry has to navigate with clients like the NYPD: the Criminal Justice Information Services, or CJIS, a division of the FBI that stores fingerprints, documents and other data and evidence used to, among other law enforcement activities, review the history of suspected criminals.
For a software provider to do work with, say, a city’s local prison system, engineers on those accounts are required to provide their personal data — including social security numbers — to the CJIS for criminal background and credit checks. It’s similar to the clearance that technology workers need to get in order to work with federal agencies, known as FedRAMP.
But unlike FedRAMP, customers like the NYPD are able to add additional requirements — like prohibiting anyone who has filed for bankruptcy from working on the account — that make the CJIS process more ad hoc. That has prevented Salesforce from being able to deploy a standardized process, according to sources.
“Trust is our number one value, and we take the protection of our customers' data very seriously. Safeguarding customer data includes compliance with various regulatory programs, such as the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Security Policy, which may place extra requirements on Salesforce employees,” a Salesforce spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
After receiving a detailed run-down of the reporting in this story, the spokesperson declined to comment further.
CJIS on the brain
The dive into CJIS-related work is part of a broader attempt by Salesforce to earn more government business, including top-secret work with agencies like the State Department. The company has at least 12 pending deals with CJIS-related clients, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to one source familiar with the pipeline.
However, the company has struggled to galvanize employee support for the subsequent requirements that go along with its push deeper into the law enforcement industry. In a sign of the struggles Salesforce faces, neither the company nor the NYPD would confirm whether the deal discussed during last December’s meeting is still active.
In order to win more public-sector customers, Salesforce has to prove it can meet the requirements that the NYPD and others mandate. But the December effort set off alarm bells among some that ultimately resulted in several employees being moved from the government cloud division over refusals to sign the contract and submit their personal information, sources said. Salesforce declined to comment on employee-related matters.
With just a few hours to review a contract fatter than “War and Peace,” some engineers pushed back. Salesforce executives ended up having to hold a town hall meeting on Dec. 13 to address employee questions, the sources said.
The engineers were asked to fill out what amounted to booking forms, the sources said, including listing any of their tattoos or visible scars.
Ultimately, workers were given more time to review and sign the contract. But some employees questioned the urgent timeline Salesforce broadcasted. For example, the documents included a signature from an executive who left months prior, indicating that Salesforce had long expected this confrontation, per one source, and a Slack channel that employees had access to showed executive conversations discussing the pending mandate several months prior.
Many of the questions from employees centered around how their information would be used, the protocols in place to safeguard it, how long it would be stored and, ultimately, whether it would open them up to unauthorized credit or background checks. Salesforce, sources said, provided few answers.
The other glaring problem with the CJIS, they argued, is that each potential customer can have a separate list of requirements for additional information and subsequent demands that could prevent an individual from working on the account. FedRAMP, on the other hand, has a uniform list of requirements that must be met by all companies.
It’s also a problem that some rivals — and close partners — don’t have. Other vendors, namely the cloud providers, likely don’t have to submit employee information to the CJIS system despite working with similar customers. That’s because AWS, Microsoft and Google have, in essence, stricter safeguards in place that prevent the ability of their own workers to access customer information.
“Cloud service personnel are unlikely to have unescorted access to unencrypted” criminal justice information, an FBI spokesperson told Protocol. Spokespeople for AWS, Microsoft and Google Cloud did not respond to multiple emailed inquiries.
However, Salesforce engineers can access such data to help with maintenance and support, according to a source familiar with its inner workings. It’s also hard to prevent engineers from accessing specific accounts given the various systems all share an underlying infrastructure that makes it difficult to erect such firewalls, according to sources. Salesforce, however, is trying to move some self-hosted programs to FedRAMP systems owned and managed by AWS, per one of the sources.
Third time’s the charm
The NYPD had some stringent rules regarding who could work on the account. For example, anyone who had a moving violation carrying a fine over $300 or had filed for bankruptcy was barred from working with the client, sources said.
Some employees immediately balked. At the same time, it was not a new request for many in the room.
Salesforce had attempted a similar move twice before, according to sources: once, in 2017, with the Philadelphia Departments of Prisons, and another time, years later, for a client that could not be independently verified by Protocol.
The contract with the Philadelphia Department of Prisons fell through amid employee resistance. The engineers were asked to fill out what amounted to booking forms, the sources said, including listing any of their tattoos or visible scars. Since the Salesforce employees were technically contractors, it was the only way the prison system could process the necessary background and credit checks.
However, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons denied that was the reason the deal disintegrated.
“The contract was not rescinded due to employees objecting to providing their personal information to CJIS,” they said in an emailed statement. The spokesperson declined to comment further, citing ongoing litigation with the company. Salesforce declined to comment.
But it’s clear the company was perhaps unprepared for the employee resistance.
One of the CJIS requirements, for example, is employee fingerprints. Salesforce suggested storing all applicable employee fingerprints on a separate, encrypted laptop. That, combined with a signed agreement from the employees, would then make it easier for the company to provide the data on the part of its workers for future customers. The engineers, however, saw it differently and pushed back. The idea was ultimately shelved.
The push to land the NYPD — along with hiring for related roles — is a clear sign that Salesforce is eager to win more law enforcement business. Salesforce is also trying to ramp up its work with other federal agencies. For example, the company is currently hiring for a position on “Project Blackjack,” Salesforce’s codename for a top-secret initiative with the State Department.
The effort to wade deeper in the law enforcement sector comes at an interesting time for Salesforce. Employees are going public with their disappointment over the company’s work with the NRA following the Uvalde shooting. And with the reputation of law enforcement tarnished for some beyond repair, Salesforce’s growth ambitions could once again collide with its cherished cultural values.