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How Yahoo Fought PRISM — And Lost

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How Yahoo Fought PRISM — And LostYahoo, one of the companies named as part of the NSA's PRISM data collection program, didn't go quietly, according to a New York Times scoop posted late Thursday. The company was behind a 2008 court challenge to fight a court order requiring the company to give them data without a warrant, which they lost. That, according to the Times, ushered the company into PRISM.  

The court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISC, has been in the news a lot recently for, among other things, authorizing the phone data tracking of millions of Americans. The Yahoo case was previously known as an unsuccessful challenge to the NSA's surveillance powers, but until now, no one knew the name of the company behind it. Here's how that argument went down, according to the Times:

    "The company argued that the order violated its users’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court called that worry “overblown."

    “Notwithstanding the parade of horribles trotted out by the petitioner, it has presented no evidence of any actual harm, any egregious risk of error, or any broad potential for abuse," the court said, adding that the government’s “efforts to protect national security should not be frustrated by the courts."
The court left the company with two options, according to the paper: "Hand over the data or break the law." And their 2008 case, because it was made partially public, has had an effect on other Silicon Valley companies facing similar requests: "it puts them on notice that they need not even try to test their legality."

Yahoo didn't comment for the Times's story, so it looks like their information came from two anonymous sources. Along with Yahoo, the article also notes that Google, Twitter, a handful of smaller companies, and a librarians' group have also fought similar orders based on elements of the National Security Letters. Yahoo joined PRISM in 2008, according to the Guardian's report on the program.  

While the leak is probably welcome news for the company, one of several weathering a rough PR week after being implicated in the PRISM data collection program, it doesn't really look like it'll do much to ease the concerns of those who worry about the privacy of the data they've handed over to the company in the first place.

Last changed: Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm

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