By what legal authority do the National Security Agency and the FBI ask Yahoo to search its users’ emails? Neither the government nor the tech company would say, after Reuters first reported on Tuesday that Yahoo “secretly built a custom software program” it used on behalf of the NSA and CIA to scan customer emails.
Company releases 1,500 documents from failed suit against NSA over user data requests and cooperation with Prism compliance
The US government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it refused to hand over user data to the National Security Agency, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.
The papers outline Yahoo’s secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle to resist the government’s demands for the tech firm to cooperate with the NSA’s controversial Prism surveillance program, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.
“The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government’s surveillance efforts,” said company general counsel Ron Bell in a Tumblr post.
The US government amended a key law to demand user information from online services in 2007. When Yahoo was asked to hand over user data the company objected arguing the request was “unconstitutional and overbroad”.
Yahoo took its case to the foreign intelligence surveillance court, also known as the Fisa court, which oversees requests for surveillance orders in national security investigations. The secretive Fisa court provides the legal authorities that underpin the US government’s controversial surveillance programs. Yahoo lost its case, and an appeal.
Federal judge William Bryson, presiding judge of the foreign intelligence surveillance court of review, which reviews denials of applications for electronic surveillance warrants, unsealed the documents on Thursday.
Disclosures in the Guardian and the Washington Post about the Prism program, which was discontinued in 2011, prompted an international backlash over allegations of overreach in government surveillance and against the tech companies which cooperated with it.
“Despite the declassification and release, portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team. The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government’s surveillance efforts. At one point, the US government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply,” wrote Bell.