Ah, the good old days–back when Yahoo ruled the web. Everyone who was anyone had a Yahoo email address, and millions still do. But news has leaked today that makes the has-been internet behemoth seem like real scumbags.
Reuters broke a massive story that details how Yahoo built an email wire-tap service for the U.S. government. The company once synonymous with email built a tool to let the government spy on anyone’s email.
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Yahoo, we now know received a “directive” to put together “a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials.” Which intelligence officials? The NSA, more than likely.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer decided to comply with the directive. This didn’t well with everyone at the company. Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos left Yahoo and went to Facebook.
A Facebook spokesperson said that “Facebook has never received a request like the one described in these news reports from any government, and if we did we would fight it.”
Information gathering happens all the time. Article 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows government intelligence agents to collect emails, phone calls, etc. But the Yahoo wiretap issue seems to include all of those here in the states, too–which isn’t technically legal.
The Yahoo scanning program pulls keywords from all Yahoo accounts. Every one of them. It happens as messages hit the in-box.
The company claims that fewer than 20,000 accounts were tapped, though there seems to be no evidence for this claim. Yahoo’s lawyer Ron Bell says, “We fight any requests that we deem unclear, improper, overbroad, or unlawful.”
“We’ve worked hard over the years to earn our users’ trust and we fight hard to preserve it,” Mayer said. There’s little evidence to support this claim, too.
The Reuters report is sourced to “two former employees and a third person apprised of the events,” rather than government officials — raising the possibility that similar orders have been issued to other major service providers.
An Apple CEO Tim Cook recently released a letter that included this passage: “Finally, I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”
“We’ve never received such a request,” a Google spokesman said, “but if we did, our response would be simple: ‘no way.’”
“We have never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement.
“The order issued to Yahoo appears to be unprecedented and unconstitutional,” Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a statement. “The government appears to have compelled Yahoo to conduct precisely the type of general, suspicionless search that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit.”
“It is deeply disappointing that Yahoo declined to challenge this sweeping surveillance order, because customers are counting on technology companies to stand up to novel spying demands in court.”