A recent report revealed that Yahoo had to comply with a government order to scan incoming emails of all of its users as intelligence agencies like the NSA and FBI were looking for specific digital signatures belonging to a group of miscreants they were after. The company has predictably taken a lot of flak for this. It has now published a letter which calls on the government to explain why it was made to scan emails of all of its users.
Another report mentioned how Yahoo tweaked its spam filter to create a powerful tool which was able to scan all incoming emails for a string of characters. It also mentioned that this system was built on the government’s request last year.
Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell writes in a letter to the director of national intelligence James Clapper to clarify the “national security orders they issue to internet companies to obtain user data,” adding that “transparency is critical to ensure accountability and in this context must include disclosing how and under what set of circumstances the US government uses specific legal authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA], to obtain private information about individuals’ online activities or communications.”
A motion has already been filed before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by the American Civil Liberties Union which calls for releasing the government order that was sent to Yahoo. ACLU is also asking the court to release over 20 additional orders that were previously sent out.
Despite taking a strong position for clarity in its letter, Yahoo didn’t actually confirm that it had built a surveillance system for the government, it simply said that as far the issue of scanning emails is concerned, “we find ourselves unable to respond in detail.”