UPDATED: The email giant wants the US government to publish the order so it can accurately respond to claims it scanned customer emails
UPDATED: Yahoo has called upon the US government to publish the surveillance order it issued the company so that it can publicly respond to claims it scanned customer emails.
Yahoo published a letter online written by its general counsel Ron Bell and addressed to the US director of national intelligence James Clapper, noting that claims it was scanning its users’ emails were “misleading” and that US intelligence is in a position to clarify the surveillance operations so that Yahoo can accurately explain the situation to its customers.
“As we’ve said before, recent press reports have been misleading; the mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems,” Bell wrote.
Bell asked Clapper to confirm the existence of the surveillance order and declassify parts or all of it so that the government can publicly explain the “national security orders they issue to internet companies to obtain user data” and Yahoo can “make a sufficiently detailed public and contextual comment to clarify the alleged facts and circumstances”.
Clapper and the US government have yet to respond to the letter decrying Yahoo request to be more transparent about surveillance operations and orders pressed upon US tech companies.
04/10/2016: Yahoo secretly scanned its customer’s emails for the US intelligence services using a real-time surveillance software system it built specifically for the task last year.
Reuters reported that according to two former Yahoo employees and a person familiar with the matter, the company searched millions of emails for a certain set of characters, either in the body of an email or its attachment, as they arrived into customer accounts.
Yahoo likely setup the scanning software at the behest of the NSA or FBI, though this has yet to be confirmed, along with what it was the US intelligence officials were looking for. It is also unknown if other email providers were contacted to fulfil such a request.
Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and the company’s other executives made the decision to comply with the directive, as ultimately they did not believe they could fight the order coming from the governmental agencies.
The two former employees also said Mayer’s decision led to some senior executives disagreeing with her and the departure of chief information security officer Alex Stamos, who now works at Facebook with a position at the head of the social network’s security.
Whistleblower Edward Snowdon revealed the extend the NSA and FBI were conducting snooping operations, so it comes as no surprise that such a request was made of Yahoo, more that the company agreed to it.
Other US telecoms and Internet companies have previously been forced to hand over bulk data to the US intelligence services, but Yahoo seems to be the first to agree to real-time surveillance. As such, Yahoo has potentially set a dangerous precedent of compliance with clandestine US governmental orders.
“Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” the company said in a short statement in response to Reuters questions. The NSA has declined to comment on the issue.
The news, while alarming, is also somewhat ironic given Yahoo has been forced to deal with a massive data leak affecting around 500 million of its users, yet still seems willing to part with data on behalf of the US intelligence services without its customers’ knowledge.
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