Yahoo announced Tuesday that the company received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests for user data from US law enforcement officials during a six-month period and strongly urged the federal government to make its information request process more transparent.
Following the pattern of statements issued by Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple about the National Security Administration cyber surveillance program, PRISM, Yahoo was unable to release information about how many of these data requests were made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
“Yahoo! cannot lawfully break out FISA request numbers at this time because those numbers are classified; however, we strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue,” the statement reads.
In 2012, the US Department of Justice submitted 1,789 electronic search applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, only one application was withdrawn, and no requests were denied, according to the most recent FISA report. In addition, the FBI sent 15,229 National Security Letter requests for information concerning 6,223 different US citizens, according to a report by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
In 2008, Yahoo! challenged FISA requests for information during classified FISC proceedings, though the company ended up having to turn over user data as part of the PRISM Internet surveillance program, according to an article by the New York Times.
In statements made directly after the PRISM program was exposed, Goolge, Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft all denied having direct knowledge of the program.
Edward Snowden called these denials of their knowledge about the existence of the PRISM program “misleading,” during an online Question and Answer session on Monday, which was hosted by the Guardian.
Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer and general counsel Ron Bell’s joint statement on the PRISM program echoed the company’s commitment to protecting the privacy of its users.
“Recognizing the important role that Yahoo! can play in ensuring accountability, we will issue later this summer our first global law enforcement transparency report,” the statement reads.
Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook all said the majority of data requests from US law enforcement officials were made concerning criminal investigations such as fraud and homicide from Dec. 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013. Microsoft announced that it received between 6,000 and 7,000 data requests from US law enforcement authorities, Facebook between 9,000 and 10,000, and Apple 4,000 and 5,000.
No company involved in the PRISM controversy has received permission to differentiate the number of FISA requests, which pertain to national security, and information requests that pertain to criminal investigations.
A Pew report, released on June 10, 2013, shows that 62 percent of Americans say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if it intrudes on their personal privacy. However, taking age into account, 45 percent of younger Americans (ages 18-29) are more likely to value protecting personal privacy over terrorism investigations.