The US government once threatened to fine internet giant Yahoo with fines of US$250,000 a day in 2008 for every day it failed and balked at demand for user data to support government mass surveillance programs that the company believed was unconstitutional, according to numerous media reports citing court documents unsealed Thursday, adding further concrete insights into how the federal authorities forced American tech companies to take part in the controversial NSA’s PRISM program as revealed by the Snowden revelations last year which were initially denied by those companies and the American government.
The 1500-pages of documents reportedly revealed how Yahoo waged and eventually lost a secretive legal battle as government attorneys held firm that Yahoo holds no legal standing on users’ privacy issues – and also warned the company not to inform users the government snoops on their communications metadata.
Yahoo challenged and lost its case – first at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and subsequently at an appeals court, the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review – and finally complied with the government demands, which were later extended to other major players in the US tech industry, including Google, Apple and Facebook – see photo below (Credit: Picture taken from the book “No Place to Hide” by Glenn Greenwald).
According to Greenwald in his recent book:
“The court [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court] is one of the most secretive institutions in the government. All of its rulings are automatically designated top secret, and only a small handful of people are authorized to access its decisions.”
And according to one of the documents Greenwald received from NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden:
“It ordered Verizon Business to turn over to the NSA “all call detail records” for “communications (i) between the United States and abroad; and (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
“Moreover, the court order specified that the bulk collection of American telephone records was authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Almost more than the ruling itself, this radical interpretation of the Patriot Act was especially shocking.”
It remains to be seen if similar court documents relating to other US tech companies would soon emerge.