Moral Low Ground


US Threatened Yahoo with $250K Daily Fine over NSA Data Refusal

Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, California (Wonderlane/Flickr Creative Commons)

Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, California (Wonderlane/Flickr Creative Commons)

The United States government threatened Yahoo with a $250,000 daily fine for the Internet giant’s refusal to hand over user data to the National Security Agency.

In a Thursday Tumblr post, Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell announced the pending release of 1,500 pages of once-secret company documents detailing efforts to challenge the expansion of US surveillance laws enacted in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The documents detail Yahoo’s unsuccessful secret legal battle against the US government, particularly Prism, the top secret surveillance program under which the NSA obtained direct access to the systems at leading Internet companies, including Yahoo, Google, Apple and Facebook.

Yahoo’s legal challenge failed after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) upheld the predecessor to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. FISC ordered Yahoo to hand over user data or face the $250,000 daily fine.

FISC is a secret court established in 1978 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents operating inside the United States. Most often, the NSA and FBI file such requests. The court’s proceedings are closed to the public and usually classified.

As Yahoo notes, FISC records are rarely made public. The company will soon publish the 1,500 pages of documents released by the court, but warns that much of the information remains classified.

Bell reiterated Yahoo’s commitment to protecting user data.

“Users come first at Yahoo,” he wrote. “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.”

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