The Intercept: Secret Surveillance Battle Between Yahoo and the U.S. Government Revealed

 In 2007, Yahoo fought back against the government’s demand for information on certain overseas customers, saying that the request was over-broad and violated the constitution.

Featured photo - Secret Surveillance Battle Between Yahoo and the U.S. Government Revealed
Update: The office of the Director of National Intelligence has released many of the declassified documents from the Yahoo litigation

More than 1,000 pages documenting a secret court battle between Yahoo and the government over warrantless surveillance will soon be released, the company said Thursday afternoon.

In 2007, Yahoo fought back against the government’s demand for information on certain overseas customers, saying that the request was over-broad and violated the constitution.


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Yahoo’s challenge ultimately failed, knocked down by both the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, which oversees secret government spying) and its review court. The company then became one of the first to hand over information to the NSA’s PRISM program, which allowed the government access to records of internet users’ chats, emails, and search histories, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The targeted user was supposed to be foreign, but U.S. communications could still be swept up in the effort. Google, YouTube, AOL, and Skype were also among the companies that provided communications data to PRISM. According to the Washington Post, the government used the FISC court’s decision in the Yahoo case to pressure those others to comply.

In a statement on the company tumblr, Yahoo’s general counsel wrote that the government at one point threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 per day if it did not release the data. That revelation is among the 1,500 pages of documents that the company plans to post shortly, he said. Also included is the original FISC opinion from 2008 forcing Yahoo to acquiesce to the government’s  demands.

The legal fight has mostly been hidden from view, with the heavily redacted exception of the review court’s order upholding the FISC decision. Yahoo’s name was even blacked out in that order, and not revealed until 2013. Yahoo asked for declassification of the court materials, and in August, the government finished its redactions. The FISC review court ordered the declassified material be released today—but it’s till mostly documents from the review, not the original challenge. Yahoo said it is still pushing for the rest of the case to be made public.

Photo: Trevor Paglen

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