Shhh…. Court Documents Revealed NSA Threatened Yahoo to Provide Metadata

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).

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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.”

And:

“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.

If I Were Snowden

The Art of Hiding and Being Undetectable

The world knows by now Edward Snowden, the former private contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked revelations of massive US clandestine electronic surveillance and eavesdropping programs, is still at large in Hong Kong.

You might wonder how Snowden managed to remain obscure, both in the physical and cyber spheres.

Hong Kong, a former British colony now a major global financial center and Special Administrative Region of China, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with a population of over seven million spread over just 1,104 square kilometers.

But it is precisely for these reasons that Hong Kong may be the ideal place. One could be easily spotted or located or one could capitalize on the dense crowd and modern infrastructure to negotiate his way unnoticed in the physical, digital and cyber dimensions.

And Snowden sure knows how to do that.

So what would you do if you were Snowden or if you simply needed to hide and remain undetectable for a period of time?

Please read the full column here and there.

The Enemies of the US

Take your pick: Edward Snowden, Internet and phone service providers, or just everybody?

The furor over the past week about how US intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for years scooped up massive loads of private communications data raises one critical and distressing question.

Who, worldwide and in the US, are the general public supposed to trust now that it seems all forms of digital and cyber communications risk being read by the American authorities? The Americans, it seems, don’t believe it’s that big a deal. By 62-34, according to the latest poll by Pew Research and the Washington Post, they say it’s more important to investigate the threats than protect their privacy. But what about the rest of the world?

The immediate acknowledgement, rather than point blank denial, of the massive clandestine eavesdropping programs is no doubt alarming even for those long suspicious of such covert undertakings. But the more disturbing part is that the official response amounts to plain outright lies.

Please read this entire Opinion Column here.