Yahoo reveals fine threats of up to $250,000 by US government


The US government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 every day if it didn't hand over user data to the NSA, according to recently unsealed court documents.

In a blog post, Ron Bell, general counsel of Yahoo, said the release of over 1,500 documents shed light on the firm's previously undisclosed fight with the NSA over user data access.

He said that the company "refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the US Government's authority."

"Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed said Ron Bell. He added that court material showed "how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government's surveillance efforts."

According to Bell, the court upheld laws preceding Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. This is more commonly known as Prism, which was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"Despite the declassification and release, portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team," said Bell.

One document from May 2008 showed that the US government not only threatened to impose a $250,000 fine on Yahoo each day it didn't hand over data but would then double this fine each week the internet giant failed to turn over data. Unsurprisingly, Yahoo complied with the legal action.

Bell said that Yahoo's fight against the US government would continue.

"We are still pushing for the FISC to release materials from the 2007-2008 case in the lower court. The FISC indicated previously that it was waiting on the FISC-R ruling in relation to the 2008 appeal before moving forward. Now that the FISC-R matter is resolved, we will work hard to make the materials from the FISC case public, as well," he said.

He added that Yahoo would continue to "contest requests and laws that we consider unlawful, unclear, or overbroad".

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.