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Yahoo faced $250k A DAY fine, refused to give NSA user data

James Temperton
12 Sep 2014
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Yahoo vows to continue fight against controversial web surveillance laws as it reveals failed attempt to stop NSA snoops

The US government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it refused to cough up sensitive user data to the National Security Agency. Yahoo had argued that sweeping requests for user data were "unconstitutional and overbroad" but ultimately lost its battle to halt the NSA.

Secret court papers unsealed on Thursday reveal the web giant’s lengthy but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to stop the NSA. In 2007 the US government amended a law to allow it to collect user data from websites en masse as part of the Prism project revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

At the time Yahoo appealed against the new powers, taking its case to the foreign intelligence surveillance court (Fisa). The secret court, which oversees surveillance orders and national security investigations, ruled against Yahoo, with the web company also losing its appeal. Details of the courts decision had remained secret until now.

All the major US tech firms, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, were included in the NSA's Prism programme. Prism allowed the NSA and British equivalent GCHQ to access emails, chat conversations, voice calls, files and more.

The publication of 1,500 secret court documents reveals the fight that Yahoo put up, with the company saying it will continue to fight surveillance orders that it sees as unjust.

"We consider this an important win for transparency, and hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering," said Ron Bell, general counsel at Yahoo.

"The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. Government’s surveillance efforts. At one point, the U.S. Government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply."

There was widespread uproar when Prism and other top-secret NSA and GCHQ surveillance programmes were revealed in 2013. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that almost every aspect of our online lives is tracked, monitored and logged by security agencies in the US and UK.

Yahoo has been one of the most outspoken major web companies and continues to argue that surveillance laws in the US are "unlawful, unclear and overbroad".

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