U.S. government pressured Yahoo to hand over user data

On Thursday, nearly 1,500 pages of legal documents from an unclassified federal court battle regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs were revealed to the public. Among the revelations included in those documents was the disclosure of a secret legal battle between the federal government and Yahoo in 2008. The fight reportedly grew so vicious that the government threatened to fine Yahoo a quarter million dollars per day if it did not comply with an order to hand over their private user data.

“The documents shed new light on tensions between American technology companies and the intelligence community long before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking in 2013,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Court documents don’t reveal exactly what the government wanted from Yahoo. In one brief, Yahoo states the main issue of the case is whether the Constitution protects the communications of U.S. citizens or legal residents believed to be outside the U.S.

Even after the documents were unsealed, portions were redacted, including the number of requests the government made of Yahoo.

The bulk collection of Internet records from U.S. companies can lead to the collection of data on people in the U.S.

This is just the kind of revelation which would have made privacy advocates on the right and left squirm just one year ago. Recent polling indicates, however, that Americans are again prioritizing national security concerns over the government’s encroachment on civil liberties.

“Just a little more than a year ago, 47% of Americans said they were more concerned that government anti-terrorism policies had gone ‘too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties’ compared with 35% who said they were more concerned those policies ‘have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country,’” The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday based on Pew Research Center data. “Now, however, only 35% say they are concerned that anti-terrorism policies have gone ‘too far’ and 50% say their greater worry is that the policies will not go ‘far enough.’”

The shocking rise of ISIS, which multiple surveys show is regarded as a national security threat by nine out of 10 Americans, has made the public feel less safe than at any time since before the September 11 attacks. It is therefore unsurprising that few would regard the kind of government intimidation Yahoo experienced in 2008 as the abuse they would have had this been revealed in 2013. That does not, however, excuse this kind of government strong-arming.

Hopefully, this latest revelation will help spark a debate which leads the public to balance privacy concerns with the demands associated with securing the nation.