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Yahoo Releases Documents Detailing NSA Battle

As an effort to maintain user-confidence in the company, Yahoo has released documents detailing the extensive process of challenging the Foreign Surveillance Act, the law requiring direct cooperation between direct communication service providers and the U.S. government.

The documents released by Yahoo detail how the company was threatened with facing a fine of $250,000 per day should it refuse to surrender foreign user data to the NSA. The documents also reveal that if Yahoo were to have decided to refuse the demand, the fines would have immediately doubled consecutively per week.

Yahoo, believing the demand to be unconstitutional, filed an objection to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court but lost the case and was ordered to keep the decision a secret.

In the document, Yahoo points out its concerns in cooperating with the Protect America Act (Also known as the Patriot Act) specifically, the measures that grant the government unlimited ability to conduct warrantless data searches through the obligatory cooperation of communication providers.

In an official blogpost by Yahoo’s General Counsel, Ron Bell, a layman’s explanation of Yahoo’s complication is expressed:

In 2007, the U.S. Government amended a key law to demand user information from online services. We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. Government’s authority.”

According to detailed court matters by The Guardian: The government claimed that due to Yahoo’s terms of service agreement, individual user’s expectation of privacy was already diminished. Yahoo countered that the argument stating that the TOS stated it would only hand over user data “when required by law” and not “by request”.

Yahoo ultimately lost the case, and instead of facing bankrupting fines, surrendered user data to comply with NSA demands.

Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) upheld the predecessor to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The Court ordered us to give the U.S. Government the user data it sought in the matter.
– Ron Bell, General Counsel

Despite the fact that Yahoo still undoubtedly surrenders user data and complies with NSA demands, and that these still aren’t all of the documents from the case, their release can still be regarded as a step in the right direction by government transparency advocates. Although Yahoo might not have won the battle, the rhetoric and proof of disobedience on their part definitely gains respect amongst its customers, and given that they were threatened with a fine which, According to the Daily Dot, after 29 consecutive weeks- would have resulted in Yahoo owing the NSA an estimated $241 trillion dollars (The total wealth of the world)- it’s understandable why they joined Google, Facebook, and the others in initially denying knowledge of the PRISM program.

The only thing is: Those other companies weren’t nearly this loyal or transparent with their customers or the public, and that goes a long way in our book.