by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Mashable
Jun. 15, 2013 (TSR) – Before allegedly becoming part of the secret National Security Agency surveillance program PRISM, Yahoo fought against it in court, in what was until now a secret challenge. The company eventually lost and had to comply, according to new reports.
This revelation comes from newly leaked documents, obtained by The New York Times, that shed some light on how Yahoo became part of PRISM, the classified NSA snooping program that allows the government to retrieve foreign users’ data from tech giants, which reportedly include companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.
The details of Yahoo’s challenge are not completely clear, since the procedure is in part still classified. All the information available on the case comes from the Times story, and the previously published but heavily redacted order (.PDF) issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) of Review, dated August 22, 2008. Even though the ruling doesn’t mention what company is challenging the order, the Times sources confirmed it is Yahoo.
It all started in 2007 or 2008, when the company refused to comply with a request made under the Protect America Act, a law passed after 9/11 that authorized “the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States.” The law was later incorporated in the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act, which is the law used to request data under PRISM.
Yahoo argued that the order was unconstitutional, contending that the type of surveillance requested required a warrant and was unreasonable, according to the Fourth Amendment. The FISC confirmed the order and dismissed Yahoo’s motion, but the company did not surrender and requested a review. In the meantime, while awaiting the review, it was forced to hand over the data.
Finally, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review disagreed with Yahoo as well, and ruled that the order qualified for an exception and was justified to protect America’s national security.
“Notwithstanding the parade of horribles trotted out by the petitioner, it has presented no evidence of any actual harm, any egregious risk of error, or any broad potential for abuse,” the court argued.
“For one thing, the purpose behind the surveillances ordered pursuant to the directives goes well beyond any garden variety law enforcement objective,” the judges wrote. “It involves the acquisition from overseas foreign agents of foreign intelligence to help protect national security. Moreover, this is the sort of situation in which the government’s interest is particularly intense.”
Ultimately, it determined that the government’s “efforts to protect national security should not be frustrated by the courts.”
Yahoo, like the rest of companies allegedly part of it, has denied any involvement in PRISM.