U.S. Government Threatened Yahoo With Massive Fines To Force NSA Compliance

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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Court documents unsealed Thursday reveal how the U.S. government forced Yahoo to cooperate with NSA’s PRISM bulk Internet surveillance program in 2008 by threatening to fine the company $250,000 daily if it refused to turn over user data.

The Washington Post reports the web giant tried to fight the order it believed to be unconstitutional but ultimately failed to do so, making Yahoo one of the first Internet companies in a list including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and more to become complicit in the signals intelligence agency’s net-wide warrantless data collection program.

“The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. government’s surveillance efforts,” Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell said in a Tumblr post Thursday.

The government issued the order in 2007, calling for Yahoo to turn over data on U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike, the only stipulation being that the targets be outside of the country. (RELATED: NSA reveals Silicon Valley KNEW about mass Internet spying)

NSA’s PRISM metadata collection program — which swept up data on when and who users exchanged email with, but omitted their contents — was revealed in agency documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year. The program was discontinued in 2011.

Some 1,500 pages of documents related to the case were made publicly available as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s ongoing effort to improve transparency by releasing classified rulings on government surveillance requests, and thus explain their justification to the public. (RELATED: FISA Court Orders Government To Release Opinion Justifying Bulk Phone Data Collection)

The FISA Court was the body that originally ruled against the company and forced its compliance, along with a subsequent apellate ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review. The ruling was reportedly used to compel Yahoo’s Silicon Valley compatriots to become equally complicit in the program.

“The public can’t understand what a law means if it doesn’t know how the courts are interpreting that law,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Patrick Toomey said in the report. The ACLU supported Yahoo’s legal battle with the government in 2008.

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