Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) has revealed its 2007-2008 ‘secret’ FISC court documents where it said that the United States government threatened the company to impose the fine amounting to $250,000 a day if the email service provider not comply with a broad demand to give user communications to the government under the surveillance act. The documents also show how the government-sponsored National Security Agency’s PRISM ‘surveillance’ program forced American technology companies to participate by threatening them.
Yahoo announced the unsealing of the documents with approximately 1,500 pages worth, reveals ‘once a secret’ and unsuccessful legal battle against the United States’ expansion of surveillance laws in 2007-2008. Initially, Yahoo resists the US government’s demands, but later, the loss in a legal battle in the ‘secret court’ FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) made it to start provide information to the NSA-backed PRISM program.
Under the PRISM program, Yahoo and other American companies had to provide access to the records of online communications to the NSA, including emails and messengers. Apple, AOL, Facebook, Microsoft and Google are some of the major companies that came under the surveillance law. Interestingly, the documents show that Microsoft had joined the PRISM program earlier, before the ruling of the FISC.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed about the NSA’s PRISM program to the world, which sparked intense national debates over allegations of over-surveillance of the American government. He also told about the participations of other government secret agencies’ involvement in similar programs, such as GCHQ of United kingdom.
The documents suggest that the PRISM program helped NSA to gain access to emails and other form of communications via major tech firms in the United States from any target user if he/she was outside the nation without the requirement of any kind of search warrants. The program also allowed the NSA to access to personal information of people through the data collected directly via fiber-optic connections.
Last year, when major news-media used Edward Snowden’s documents to reveal the truth about the NSA’s secret PRISM program, Yahoo has faced severe criticism, and was legally declined from revealing the company’s efforts to resist the government pressure.
Yahoo said in its blog post:
Our fight continues. We are still pushing for the FISC to release materials from the 2007-2008 case in the lower court. The FISC indicated previously that it was waiting on the FISC-R ruling in relation to the 2008 appeal before moving forward. Now that the FISC-R matter is resolved, we will work hard to make the materials from the FISC case public, as well.
Users come first at Yahoo. We treat public safety with the utmost seriousness, but we are also committed to protecting users’ data. We will continue to contest requests and laws that we consider unlawful, unclear, or overbroad.
Yahoo said that the revelation of the documents to public is an important win for transparency and the company hopes these records will allow to promote informed discussion about the relationship between the due process, privacy and intelligence gathering. Stay tuned for more updates on this story.