US Gov’t Threatened Yahoo If It Didn’t Use PRISM

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( — September 12, 2014)  — According to the company, when Yahoo didn’t comply with a National Security Agency request to hand over user data under the PRISM surveillance program, the US government threatened it with daily fines of $250K.

A leaked top-secret slide about PRISM shows that Yahoo was one of the first participants, having begun contributing to the database in March of 2008.

However, company executives who believed the government’s demand for data was “unconstitutional and overbroad” , fought it in court and lost.

“Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed,” explained Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell in a blog post published yesterday. “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)… ordered us to give the US Government the user data it sought in the matter.”

After it lost, Yahoo was threatened with fines of $250,000 per day if it didn’t comply with the program. Not only that, but the government got permission to share the ruling with other companies in order to put pressure on them as well, according to a just-published story by The Washington Post.

Ultimately, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple would all participate in PRISM. Before it was discontinued in 2011, the program gathered up vast amounts of what the government called “metadata” about e-mail, including information on who users e-mailed and when.

The original order to Yahoo in 2007 required the company to provide information on targets that were outside the US.

The PRISM electronic data mining program was first exposed by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden. Almost all the major US tech firms were listed as participants in the program.

In 2007, the US government amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including a loophole in section 702, which led to the NSA being able to demand American user information from online services – emails, chat conversations, voice calls, documents and more. AOL, Apple, Google and Microsoft complied with government requests.

A partially redacted certification was then filed with the FISC, as well as a mostly unredacted directive that Yahoo later received.

Yahoo still hasn’t posted the documents, and the FISA Review Court has no public docket. Officials say they will update the post with links to the documents as soon as they are available.