Government Threatened Yahoo To Make It Violate Constitution and Users’ Privacy

It was 2008 and no one knew that the government threatened Yahoo. Until now. One of the tools of the terror security state (or insecurity state) is that they can bind you to secrecy so that you are completely isolated in your struggle with the government.


The Washington Post reports,

The U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user communications — a request the company believed was unconstitutional — according to court documents unsealed Thursday that illuminate how federal officials forced American tech companies to participate in the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program.

The documents, roughly 1,500 pages worth, outline a secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle by Yahoo to resist the government’s demands. The company’s loss required Yahoo to become one of the first to begin providing information to PRISM, a program that gave the NSA extensive access to records of online communications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms.

The ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review became a key moment in the development of PRISM, helping government officials to convince other Silicon Valley companies that unprecedented data demands had been tested in the courts and found constitutionally sound. Eventually, most major U.S. tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple and AOL, complied. Microsoft had joined earlier, before the ruling, NSA documents have shown.

So while internet users get no secrets and no Fourth Amendment protections, everything the NSA does is all secret, including even the laws and the court decisions that affect us all.

A version of the court ruling had been released in 2009 but was so heavily redacted that observers were unable to discern which company was involved, what the stakes were and how the court had wrestled with many of the issues involved.

Yahoo fought the Federal government every step of the way, but while they were appealing a Federal courts decision in favor of the government, they were ordered to comply or else be fined.

This information is now revealed so that Yahoo can show that they did not willingly cooperate with the government, but were coerced to give up users emails without a warrant (most of these were not citizens, but some probably were).

If it were not for Edward Snowden, we would not know about any of this. We would not know how our own laws are being enforced.

The hypocrisy is amazing. In 2006, at Congressional hearings Yahoo got grilled for turning over information to the Chinese government–resulting in the imprisonment of a dissident. As Amnesty International reports,

Another poor choice that Yahoo! made was misleading the U.S. Congress as to how much information it has about a request for user information before handing it over. Yet, at a Congressional hearing held on February 15, 2006, Yahoo! presented formal testimony regarding Shi Tao specifically and internet censorship generally, and responded to many questions from Representatives of Congress about their role in China. Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems also presented testimony. Overall, Congress was not satisfied with the current state of play regarding IT and human rights in China, leading to a spirited debate about what could be done.

Despite being faced with the tragic reality of the company’s role in Shi Tao’s arrest and detention, and allegedly the detentions of other internet dissidents, Yahoo! essentially denied any responsibility for investigating how email user information was being utilized by the Chinese government in its February 2006 testimony.

So only two years later, the Federal government was threatening Yahoo with a quarter-million-dollar-a-day fine if they did not violate their privacy agreements and turn over users data to the Federal government!

I guess Yahoo and the other tech companies will get credit for not being willing collaborators. But they weren’t heroes. The only hero was the man who owned the email service that Edward Snowden used, Ladar Levison. Levison dismantled his business rather than participate in violating the Fourth Amendment.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more Americans were like him?