Yahoo Scanned Emails For Gov’t Without Knowing Why

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Yahoo isn’t quite sure why it scanned users’ emails for the government, so the company sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to find out why.

“I write to you regarding recent media reports from an October 4 Reuters article about an alleged classified order from the U.S. government,” reads Yahoo’s message, written by General Counsel Ron Bell.

The government order — which Yahoo seems to not fully understand despite complying — allegedly asked for the company to scan hundreds of millions of Yahoo mail accounts for the NSA or FBI, according to Reuters.

Yahoo secretly built a custom software program to parse through customers’ incoming emails. It’s the first-ever known example in U.S. history of an email provider scanning through all incoming emails as they arrive. When online communication companies are asked for government information, often through a warrant, they usually look at messages already on the server.

“At Yahoo, we are deeply committed to transparency and to protecting the rights of our users. Yahoo was mentioned specifically in these reports and we find ourselves unable to respond in detail,” the letter reads.

The company doesn’t directly address (or admit) to scanning users’ emails, but requests Clapper to “clarify this matter of public interest.”

Yahoo says that the fact it cannot explain itself is due to U.S. laws, which “significantly constrain–and severely punish—companies’ ability to speak for themselves about national security related orders even in ways that do not compromise U.S. government investigations.”

The company essentially blames government gag orders for hampering its ability to try and rectify apparent mistakes.

“Recent news stories have provoked broad speculation about Yahoo’s approach and about the activities and representations of the U.S. government,” the letter continues.

But the incriminating report is just one of the many missteps Yahoo has experienced over the past months and years.

It announced last month that at least 500 million users accounts were hacked in 2014.

There were reports of internal squabbles between the cybersecurity team and CEO Marissa Mayer and Senior Vice President Jeff Bonforte over business priorities, according to The New York Times.

Alex Stamos, chief information security officer, consistently advocated for stronger cybersecurity measures (like end-to-end encryption), while Mayer and Bonforte disagreed and sought new features — like an updated interface.

Stamos left Yahoo after he discovered that mail engineers installed the surveillance program in question, according to TechCrunch.

Mayer is currently being sued for allegedly purging the tech company of male employees.

“While we can’t comment on pending litigation, I can share that fairness is a guiding principle of our annual review and reward process. Our performance review process was developed to allow employees at all levels of the company to receive meaningful, regular, and actionable feedback from others,” a Yahoo representative told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

And after all of these blunders, Yahoo’s email forwarding feature, which allows users to forward all emails to another email account, was inconveniently disabled.

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