In compliance with a classified U.S. government demand, Yahoo scanned hundreds of millions e-mails for specific information, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Sources who did not want to be identified say that would have meant a specific phrase in an e-mail or attachment. Some surveillance experts say this is the first such major case to surface of an Internet company agreeing to an intelligence request by searching all arriving messages. The content of the information intelligence officers were looking for is not known. Reuters was unable to determine what data, if any, Yahoo may have handed over.
A day after the Reuters report broke, Yahoo issued a statement denying the story. The statement from a Yahoo spokesperson and sent to TechRadar reads, “The [Reuters] article is misleading. We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”
It’s interesting to note that the statement says the Reuters report is “misleading” and not unequivocally false. There may be some truth to the original story, but Yahoo is not saying which parts are accurate.
However, Yahoo does deny the existence of the email scanning tool that anonymous sources revealed to Reuters. It’s unknown why Yahoo originally provided us with a statement that read, “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” only to follow up with a denial 12 hours later with the statement above.
Yahoo built custom software for the US government to help its spy agencies look for specific information in any of its users’ emails, according to a new report.
Reuters claims Yahoo built the program last year at the behest of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). The publication learned about the company’s alleged actions through interviews with two anonymous former Yahoo employees and another anonymous source familiar with the matter.
While technically legal according to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Yahoo‘s move to allow real-time mass surveillance of its users is unprecedented. It’s also unknown what exactly the NSA and FBI were looking for.