Yahoo Urges U.S. Government to Release Information Regarding E-Mail Surveillance

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In a letter posted to its Global Public Policy Blog, Yahoo "demands transparency from the Director of National Intelligence" to "provide [US] citizens with clarification around national security orders they issue to internet companies to obtain user data."

"While the letter makes specific reference to recent allegations against Yahoo, it is intended to set a stronger precedent of transparency for our users and all citizens who could be affected by government requests for user data," the company stated in the blog post.  "As we’ve said before, recent press reports have been misleading; the mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems," the company also asserted in the blog post.

The allegations referred to in the blog post are of Yahoo's scanning of millions of emails of users of its Yahoo Mail (aka Y Mail) service, at the request of a U.S. government security agency. (Different reports refer to different agencies, including the National Security Agency [NSA] and/or the FBI.)

In the letter addressed to Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell touts his company's commitment to "transparency and to protecting the rights of [its] users." However, Bell laments that the "recent new stories have provoked broad speculation about Yahoo's approach," to privacy, and that "we find ourselves unable to respond in detail."

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"That speculation results in part from a lack of transparency and because US laws significantly constrain -- and severely punish -- companies' ability to speak for themselves about national security related orders even in ways that do not compromise US government investigations," Bell added.

In the letter, Bell specifically asked Clapper to:

  1. confirm whether an order, as described in these media reports, was issued
  2. declassify, in whole or in part, such and order, if it exists
  3. make a sufficiently detailed public and contextual comment to clarify the alleged facts and circumstances

So far it does not appear that Clapper has complied or otherwise responded to Bell's letter.

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