Subscribe

Yahoo: Gov't threatened $250K-a-day fines to get our user data

Yahoo says the government demanded they surrender online information for government surveillance purposes. Yahoo fought the demands in court, calling the request a violation of Fourth Amendment freedoms.

  • close
    This Oct. 17, 2012, photo shows a sign in front of Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.
    Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

Yahoo said Thursday the government threatened to fine the company $250,000 a day if it did not comply with demands to go along with an expansion of US surveillance by surrendering online information, a step the company regarded as unconstitutional.

The outlines of Yahoo's secret and ultimately unsuccessful court fight against government surveillance emerged when a federal judge ordered the unsealing of some material about Yahoo's court challenge.

In a statement, Yahoo said the government amended a law to demand user information from online services, prompting a challenge in 2007 during the George W. Bush administration.

Recommended: NSA surveillance 101: What US intelligence agencies are doing, what they know

"Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a statement.

The new material about the case underscores "how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government's surveillance efforts," Bell added. "At one point, the US government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply."

Bell said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court upheld the predecessor to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. Section 702 refers to the program called PRISM, which gave the government access to online communications by users of Yahoo.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the program last year.

Yahoo said it is committed to protecting users' data and that it will continue to contest requests and laws that it considers unlawful, unclear, or overly broad.

"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 Bell.

The newly released documents show that the Bush administration was taking a hard line and was miffed that Yahoo had even been allowed to get into court with its complaint.

In sum, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court erred in permitting Yahoo to challenge the directives, said a court brief signed by then-US Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Yahoo was arguing that what the Bush administration was doing violated the Fourth Amendment rights of customers of Yahoo.

"The government has conducted warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance for decades, and such surveillance has been upheld under the Fourth Amendment by every appellate court to decide the question," Mukasey wrote.

"The government's implementation of the Protect America Act is consistent with decades of past practice and adequately protects the privacy of US persons," said Mukasey.

In its court papers, Yahoo urged that the government be reined in.

Yahoo requested that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review reverse the lower court's judgment and find that "the surveillance authorized by the directives is not 'otherwise lawful,'" wrote Marc Zwillinger, a lawyer representing the Internet service provider.

Yahoo lost the battle in the surveillance review court.

In a statement Thursday night, the Obama administration said it is "even more protective" of the rights of US citizens than the law upheld by the review court.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the case shows the need for more openness about government surveillance.

"The secrecy that surrounds these court proceedings prevents the public from understanding our surveillance laws," said ACLU staff attorney Patrick Toomey. "Today's release only underscores the need for basic structural reforms to bring transparency to the NSA's surveillance activities."

____

AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK