Report: Yahoo Granted US Government Access to Users’ Detailed Email Information
Technology| | By Robin Milling
Yahoo Inc. is under security fire once again. Just last month they revealed “state-sponsored” hackers gained access to 500 million customer accounts in 2014. With the internet company trying to secure a deal to sell its core business to Verizon Communications Inc. for $4.8 billion, another bombshell has been dropped involving their security issues – this time entailing a users’ email privacy.
Reuters reports that last year Yahoo Inc. secretly designed a custom software program to sift through all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information demanded by the U.S. government. At the classified command by the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI, former employees from Yahoo revealed hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts were scanned for a “set of characters” which could mean a phrase or an attachment in an email. The request came in the form of a classified edict sent to the company’s legal team.
This brings up fundamental concerns once again about a citizen’s right to privacy.
At a press conference for Snowden on September 14, 2016 via satellite, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said this about privacy:
“Privacy is what gives you the ability to share with the world who you are on your own terms, what you’re trying to be and to protect the parts that you’re not sure about. If we don’t have privacy we’re losing the ability to make mistakes and be ourselves. Privacy is the fountainhead of all other rights. Without privacy you don’t have anything for yourself. When people say to me they don’t care about privacy because they have nothing to hide it’s like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target. Google and Microsoft Corp., two major U.S. email service providers, wrote statements that they did not take part in such email searches.
A spokesman for Google said, “We’ve never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: ‘No way.'”
A Microsoft spokesperson said, “We have never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo.”
Yahoo, Inc. took the bait.
Surveillance experts said this may be the first case to surface of a U.S. internet company complying with an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.
Not all the employees were happy about this directive which was discovered by Yahoo’s security team in May 2015 – within weeks of its installation – which initially blamed hackers. According to the Yahoo informants, the compliance by Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer led to the June 2015 departure of chief information security officer Alex Stamos defecting to Facebook – now head of security there.
In their defense Yahoo said in a statement, “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”
Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over. It’s almost certain they didn’t ask them in an email.