Yahoo was forced to join spying program PRISM by secret court



Yahoo’s top lawyers had a courtroom showdown with the National Security Agency after it had demanded information on certain foreign users without a warrant, but the tech giant lost and was forced to hand over the data, it was revealed today.


Court documents obtained by the New York Times show that the Internet company had initially refused to join the PRISM spying program, insisting that the broad national security requests seeking users’ personal information were unconstitutional.


However, the secret court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) sided with the NSA and forced Yahoo’s hand. 

Secret battle: Court documents show that Yahoo challenged NSA’s broad requests seeking its users’ personal information, but the secret FISA court ruled against the tech giant

Information about Yahoo’s legal battle against the NSA first emerged in a heavily redacted court order, but the name of the company involved had not been released until now.

It was claimed that besides Yahoo, a number of major Silicon Valley companies became part of PRISM, among them Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Skype, AOL and the lesser known Internet company PalTalk, which has hosted a lot of traffic during the Arab Spring and the on-going Syrian civil war.

However, only Facebook and Google have been shown to have worked toward creating ‘online rooms’ in which to share data with the government.

Information about the classified program was leaked last week by NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden, 29, who smuggled the files concerning PRISM on a thumb drive.

Constitutional argument: In 2008, Yahoo lawyers challenged NSA’s warrantless information requests, claiming that they violated their users’ Fourth Amendment rights, but the company was eventually forced to join the top-secret PRISM program

In 2008, Yahoo argued that NSA’s requests seeking to obtain its users’ private data violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, but the judges on the FISA court disagreed with the company’s assessment, calling their concerns ‘overblown,’ the Times reported.

‘Notwithstanding the parade of horrible trotted out by the petitioner, it has presented no evidence of any actual harm, any egregious risk of error, or any broad potential for abuse,’ the court said, adding that the government’s ‘efforts to protect national security should not be frustrated by the courts.’

Yahoo’s defeat in court reportedly left other top players in the industry more reluctant to challenge the NSA on surveillance request.




Classified: The particulars of the PRISM data-mining program have been outlined in a top-secret PowerPoint presentation for senior intelligence analysts, which ended up being leaked

Participants: This graph shows when each of the nine tech companies joined PRISM, with Apple being the latest addition in October 2012

So far, Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all denied their 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.’

In the wake of the unwarranted spying scandal, a number of top Silicon Valley companies, among them Facebook, Google and Microsoft, have asked the government to overturn a gag order allowing them to publicly disclose national security requests.

Bombshell: NSA and FBI have been extracting audio, video, photos, e-mails, documents and other data from Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and PalTalk

Key source: PRISM has been described by NSA officials ‘as the most prolific contributor to the president’s Daily Brief,’ providing analysts with a wealth of ‘raw material’

Google Inc was the first to go public with its demand for greater transparency, releasing an open letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice for permission to disclose the number and scope of data requests each receives from security agencies, including confidential FISA requests.

Microsoft Corp and Facebook Inc soon followed with similarly worded statements in support of Google.

Last year, the government issued more than 1,850 FISA requests and 15,000 National Security Letters, which refers to requests filed by the FBI to collect information about Americans.

Between 2008 and last year, only two of more than 8,500 FISA requests were rejected by the secret court, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit research group.

Storage space: NSA’s Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, where government records of citizen’s phone and internet usage could be kept

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