US gov threatened Yahoo with daily $250,000 fines for refusing to hand over PRISM data

Newly-declassified documents show that Yahoo - an early conscript to the PRISM surveillance program - fought the US over ‘abuse’ of powers

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The Independent Tech

The US government threatened Yahoo with fines of $250,000 a day after they refused to participate in the National Security Agency’s mass-surveillance programs, according to court documents released yesterday.

In a blog post by Yahoo’s general counsel Ron Bell, the internet company revealed that although Yahoo was one of the first participants in the PRISM program (they joined in March 2008), they had bitterly protested against the order to hand over users’ personal data without warrants.

“We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. Government’s authority,” writes Bell. “Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed.”

The ruling against Yahoo proved key in the NSA’s wide-spread deployment of PRSIM, with the program subsequently being rolled out to companies including Facebook, Apple and Google. Microsoft had also joined before Yahoo’s protest in court.

The PRISM program began in 2007 and closed in 2011, collecting vast amounts of information from internet users around the world. Former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden revealed the existence of PRISM and other surveillance schemes last year after leaking masses of internal documents.

Britain’s own GCHQ also participated in the program from an unknown date, with the two security agencies able to carry “extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information” without court approval. It was this lack of court approval that reportedly triggered alarm bells at Yahoo, with an early court filing by the company describing the case as “of tremendous national importance."

"The issues at stake [are] the most serious issues that this Nation faces today - to what extent must the privacy rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution yield to protect our national security.”

The court, however, ruled that the government had put sufficient safegaurds in place to avoid abuse by the NSA.