U.S. Threatened Yahoo With $250K A day Fine For Not Complying With PRISM
Back in 2007, the U.S. government demanded Yahoo to hand over user data to the NSA to cooperate with the agency’s controversial PRISM surveillance program and even threatened the tech firm with a massive fine of $250,000 a day, if it didn’t comply, according to court documents released Thursday.
In a recent blog post, Yahoo revealed that 1,500 pages worth of documents had been unsealed which shed light on how Feds forced the American tech giant to participate in the National Security Agency’s PRISM program, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year. The documents, outline Yahoo’s secret and unsuccessful legal battle to resist NSA’s spy program and the government’s threat of a fine.
“The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. Government’s surveillance efforts,” Yahoo’s general counsel Ron Bell said in a Tumblr post. “At one point, the U.S. Government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply.”
In 2007, the U.S. government amended a key law to request user information from online services. However, Yahoo disputed the initial order arguing the demand was “unconstitutional and overbroad,” and took its case to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But it lost that fight both in the FISC and during appeal to the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review.
Eventually, Yahoo had to bow down to the government’s demands for customer data along with other Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple and AOL, which complied with the PRISM program in the wake of that ruling. Microsoft had joined earlier, before the ruling, as revealed by the NSA documents.
The FISA Court documents were unsealed on Thursday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to which Bell claimed to be “an important win for transparency.” He noted, “[We] hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering.”
PRISM surveillance program started under the Bush administration, which allowed NSA to collect user information such as emails, chat conversations and even voice calls, from the major tech firms under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
The program was first revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year, prompting an intense backlash over allegations of unethical snooping by government and against the tech companies which complied with it.
However, the recently surfaced documents give an impression that Yahoo had challenged the government’s surveillance efforts more than any other of its competitors.
“Our fight continues,” Bell said. “We are still pushing for the FISC to release materials from the 2007-2008 case in the lower court. The FISC indicated previously that it was waiting on the FISC-R ruling in relation to the 2008 appeal before moving forward. Now that the FISC-R matter is resolved, we will work hard to make the materials from the FISC case public, as well.”
Gohar is the lead editor at TechFrag. He has a wide range of interests when it comes to tech but he's currently spending a big chunk of his time writing about privacy, cyber security, and anything policy related.