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Yahoo Was Reportedly Forced to Join PRISM By a Secret Court
by Drew Guarini
Yahoo fought PRISM, and PRISM won.
Court records obtained by The New York Times show that Yahoo had fought back against the National Security Agency’s broad requests for user data in 2008. The company, which provides email service to hundreds of millions of people, argued that the order violated Yahoo account holders’ constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The secret court didn’t buy Yahoo’s argument, and compelled the company to give the NSA digitally stored email and photos at its beck and call.
Since the bombshell revelation of NSA’s so-called PRISM program last week, the public has learned more about how the nine participating Internet companies let the government collect broad swaths of personal information from Internet users for national security purposes. The secret 2008 decision seemed to put a dark cloud over Silicon Valley: cooperate with the government to fight terrorism abroad, or you’ll find yourself in court.
One firm that more successfully resisted the NSA’s advances was Twitter. That’s partially because the young microblogging service has less data on users compared to Google or Facebook, according to The Verge, so it’s less desirable to government snoops. But that hasn’t stopped the company and its top lawyer, Alex Macgillivray, from fighting the government in court when it has asked for people’s private information.
Though this case was previously known through a heavily redacted court order, it wasn’t until now that we knew Yahoo was the company behind the unsuccessful NSA challenge that would leave many companies less willing to battle the NSA on other surveillance requests. In the decision, the court had told Yahoo that their worries were “overblown.”
Yahoo, like Google and Facebook, have denied involvement in PRISM.
“Yahoo! has not joined any program in which we volunteer to share user data with the U.S. government,” Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a Tumblr post Saturday. “We do not voluntarily disclose user information. The only disclosures that occur are in response to specific demands.”
Moving past outright denial of participation, companies such as Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Google are now pressing the government for permission to publish more information about the number of secret requests it receives for customers’ data.