The US government threatened to fine Yahoo if it didn’t hand over user data as part of the National Security Agency’s PRISM electronic surveillance program.
Documents show the government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 per day if it refused to provide data to the NSA on behest of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).
Yahoo fought the government’s request and appealed a secret court order to turn over the data, which led the government to threaten an escalating series of fines that could have overwhelmed Yahoo within weeks.
At Yahoo’s request, a federal judge recently unsealed 1,500 pages of classified documents showing how the company battled government in the secret court.
Ron Bell, general counsel of Yahoo, said the company “refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the US Government’s authority.”
“Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed said Ron Bell. He added that court material showed “how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government’s surveillance efforts.”
According to Bell, the court upheld laws preceding Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. This is more commonly known as Prism, which was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“Despite the declassification and release, portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team,” said Bell.
One document from May 2008 showed that the US government not only threatened to impose a $250,000 fine on Yahoo each day it didn’t hand over data but would then double this fine each week the internet giant failed to turn over data. Unsurprisingly, Yahoo complied with the legal action.
Bell said that Yahoo’s fight against the US government would continue.
“We are still pushing for the FISC to release materials from the 2007-2008 case in the lower court. The FISC indicated previously that it was waiting on the FISC-R ruling in relation to the 2008 appeal before moving forward. Now that the FISC-R matter is resolved, we will work hard to make the materials from the FISC case public, as well,” he said.
He added that Yahoo would continue to “contest requests and laws that we consider unlawful, unclear, or overbroad”.