The Obama administration threatened Yahoo with fines of US$250,000 daily if it wouldn’t comply with demands to hand over user information to the United States National Security Agency, Yahoo has disclosed.
Yahoo had filed suit against the demands in 2007, citing the Fourth Amendment.
“They basically said you must do this thing that you don’t want to do or we’ll put you out of business,” Daniel Castro, senior analyst at The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, told TechNewsWorld.
“But if Yahoo complied, they’d go out of business because people would get angry with them,” Castro continued. “That’s like giving a prisoner a shovel and making him dig his own grave.”
Yahoo plans to release more than 1,500 pages of documents from its court case.
“We consider this an important win for transparency, and hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering,” said Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell.
The Court Papers
The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISC-R) — which reviews denials of applications for electronic surveillance warrants under FISA, agreed to unseal the proceedings after years of court battles.
There is no FISC-R public docket, so Yahoo is preparing the documents for release. It will place a link to the documents on its Tumblr page when they are ready.
The documents include the first release of the 2008 FISC opinion that Yahoo challenged on appeal.
They also include an expanded version of the FISC-R opinion in the case, first released in a more redacted form in 2008; both parties’ briefs, including some lower court briefings; an ex parte appendix of classified filings; a partially redacted certification filed with FISC; and a partially redacted directive Yahoo received.
Portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, and Yahoo still doesn’t know what’s in them.
All About Power
Perhaps fittingly, Yahoo made its announcement on Sept. 11, 13 years from the day that changed Americans’ lives forever and led to a rush to expand government surveillance capabilities.
The question now is whether Yahoo’s having been given some documents to publish will help promote transparency and openness with regard to government surveillance and the role tech companies played in carrying it out.
How is it possible that in this day and age, in the United States, companies have to defend themselves in court without being apprised of the substance of the charges against them?
“Unfortunately, this administration has gone overboard with its surveillance powers to the extent that the old adage that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ appears to be true in the modern day,” Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press, told TechNewsWorld. “The Obama administration has the worst record on privacy of any administration.”
Watching You Watching Me
Documents released by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed that Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Facebook were among the companies that had participated in the NSA’s PRISM program, sparking public outrage.
The other three companies subsequently filed suit asking for the right to publish aggregated information on the number of requests they received under the PRISM program.
The tech companies were forced to press for transparency to “show that indeed they had no choice in the matter, and let the public judge for itself,” Karr said. “Yahoo has succeeded in divulging some of those interactions, and I’m sure there are mountains of more documents.”
However, “I don’t know if this will help improve transparency,” he added. “I think you have to actually go and look at the FISA Amendments Act and language in the Patriot Act and change them so that the government no longer has the power to conduct surveillance like this.”