US threatened Yahoo with huge fine over surveillance

US threatened Yahoo with huge fine over surveillance
Yahoo's Headquarters In Sunnyvale, California.

WASHINGTON - US authorities threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 (S$315,840) a day if it failed to comply with a secret surveillance programme requiring it to hand over user data in the name of national security, court documents showed Thursday.

The documents, made public in a rare unsealing by a secretive court panel, "underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government's surveillance efforts," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a blog post that will again raise privacy concerns.

The documents shed new light on the PRISM snooping programme revealed in leaked files from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The programme allowed US intelligence services to sweep up massive amounts of data from major Internet firms including Yahoo and Google. Officials have said the deeply contentious programme ended in 2011.

The 1,500 pages of documents were ordered released by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the case dating from 2007, according to Bell, who said that in 2007, the US 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 US government's authority," he said.

Yahoo's court challenge failed and it was forced to hand over the US user data.

"At one point, the US government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply," Bell revealed.

Since the Snowden leaks, Yahoo and others have been seeking to make public these court documents to show they were forced to comply with government requests and made numerous attempts to fight these efforts, rather than simply acquiescing to them, as some critics say.

The opening of these court dockers to the public "is extremely rare," Bell said, adding that the company was in the process of making the 1,500 pages publicly available online.

"We consider this an important win for transparency and hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering," Bell added.

But he said that "despite the declassification and release, portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team."

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