Yahoo Is the Latest to Publicize NSA Snooping

Three_Surveillance_camerasYahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) announced that it received 13,000 data requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies, joining a host of other tech companies giving details about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests they received.

Bloomberg reports that in in the six months ending May 31, Yahoo received information requests for help with cases of fraud, homicides, and criminal investigations. Yahoo urged the government to reconsider its use of FISA, and now plans to issue its first global law enforcement transparency report, updated with new statistics every six months.

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“We’ve worked hard over the years to earn our users’ trust and we fight hard to preserve it,” Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer and General Counsel Ron Bell said in the statement. “We will continually evaluate whether further actions can be taken to protect the privacy of our users and our ability to defend it.”

And Yahoo is just the latest in a string of companies that have asked the government for permission to tell the general public the extent of the FISA requests, as well as their compliance (or non-compliance). This list includes Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) — all of which have handled the uproar similarly.

Computer_keyboardBut first, some background on FISA: It is a three-decade-old law that allows intelligence agencies to monitor the communications of non-U.S. citizens reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. and involved in terrorist activities or other crimes.

However, more worrisome is the fact that FISA is just one strategy used by the National Security Agency in its quest for data collection under the code-name PRISM, which came to light earlier this month after Edward Snowden— a computer technician who did work for the NSA— disclosed details of PRISM to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers.

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Apple stated that they received 9,000-10,000 requests in the six months ending May, mainly for help with criminal investigations and security matters, according to The Huffington Post. The company said its legal team evaluates each request before giving the “narrowest possible set of information to the authorities.”

“We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order,” Apple said in a statement on its website.

Facebook received between 18,000-19,000 requests, although their requests came in the six months ending December 2012, as opposed to the six months ending May 2013. Facebook lawyer Ted Ullyot did not indicate to what extent the social networking-giant complied with requests by the government, but gave background.

“We frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested,” Ullyot said.

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Microsoft received 6,000-7,000 data requests between 31,000-32,000 accounts, in the six months ending December 2012. They have their own transparency reports, similar to the one Yahoo is planning, but up until two days ago FISA requests weren’t permitted on these transparency reports. BBC reports that this has since changed, although the data must be given in generalities and a series of ranges, as opposed to highlighting specific requests.

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