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Yahoo faced $250,000 per day fines for refusing NSA data demands

Fri 12 Sep 2014

The US government threatened Yahoo with daily fines of up to $250,000 if it did not immediately give up its user data as part of a National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance scheme, reports suggest.

According to official court documents unsealed by a federal court on Thursday, Yahoo have been fighting a secret and so far unsuccessful legal battle to confront the government’s NSA Prism program, exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013.

“The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government’s surveillance efforts,” explained Ron Bell, Yahoo’s general counsel, on the company’s Tumblr page.

The US government amended a significant digital law in 2007 requiring that all online services hand over their user data. Yahoo refused to comply, stating that the demands were “unconstitutional and overbroad.”

Yahoo took their case to the foreign intelligence surveillance court (FISC) which deals with surveillance demands in national security programs. However, Yahoo lost the case, as well as the ensuing appeal, and were threatened with “the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if [it] refused to comply” with the government’s requests, wrote Bell.

Other US tech firms, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, were identified as participants in the disclosed Prism program, which granted access to user data such as emails, chats, calls, and documents.

According to Patrick Toomey, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, Yahoo “had challenged the warrantless wiretapping program more than any other of its competitors.”

Bell added in his Tumblr post that the publication of the court materials was “an important win for transparency.”

“We hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering,” he added.

Read the full Yahoo Tumblr post here.

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