Yahoo was finally able to tell the story of an interaction with U.S. security agencies from 2008. After several years, a federal judge declassified a part of the file, giving Yahoo the chance to make the story public.
The file illustrates how Internet companies had to deal with governmental pressures after 9/11. Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the recipients of data requests from security agencies are not allowed to talk about the interaction or even acknowledge its existence.
Yahoo received a data request but refused to comply. The authorities were so determined to have access to the data that they threatened Yahoo with a fine of $250.000 per day.
The case is an example of an Internet company that decided to fight against the government pressures to hand over user data. Internet companies received a bad press after the Snowden leaks. Some reports claimed that companies willingly allowed the government to freely access their user databases, although companies denied it. Instead, they argued, authorities had to send them specific requests for them to eventually comply.
Yahoo explains why they were not allowed to talk about what happened during their interaction with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). “The FISC and the FISC-R are “secret” courts that oversee requests by the U.S. Government for surveillance orders and other types of legal process in national security investigations,” said Ron Bell, General Counsel in a Yahoo blog post. “The Court’s hearings and records are closed to the public and typically classified.”
Now Yahoo is allowed to publish some data from the interaction with FISC-R, after the file was partially unsealed in 2013. The company prepares to release 1.500 document pages to the public. In the meantime, Yahoo continues the fight in a lower court to make the rest of the documents public.
The Protect America Act expired in 2008. The Congress decided to make the measures contained by PAA more permanent and released FIDA Amendments Acts. The law gave the government increased surveillance powers. In the name of protecting American citizens abroad, the authorities could and did ask Internet companies to release information of foreign users. Yahoo decided to fight in court the right of the authorities to ask for this data.
Yahoo has been lauded by The American Civil Liberties Union for standing up against increasing government surveillance pressures.