When PRISM first leaked, the tech companies involved in such a program were a major concern. Just about every major conduit for your digital info was listed, including Yahoo. Now it seems Yahoo’s participation in PRISM may have been under heavy duress, and under penalty of a massive fine.
It’s worth noting upfront that Yahoo fought the good fight, and believed the NSA’s program was “unconstitutional and overboard surveillance”. This was 2008, and Yahoo was the veritable king of the Internet. In a blog post published today, Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell noted the company tried to stay as far away from PRISM as possible, but couldn’t:
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.
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. The Court’s hearings and records are closed to the public and typically classified. For example, our role in the 2007-2008 lawsuit remained classified until 2013. In spite of this, we fought to declassify and to share the findings from the case.
Now that they can, Yahoo says they will release all 1,500 pages of documents relating to the trial. According to Bell, the US government once threatened Yahoo with a fine of $250,000 per day should they not comply with the request for user data under PRISM.
In releasing the documents, Yahoo both clears their name a bit with users, and shows us just how heavy-handed the program really is — and was. When the documents come out, it will be interesting to see the process by which the NSA bullied providers into coercion.