In the rush to judgement over the government’s PRISM surveillance program many were quick to blame companies for being complicit with government agencies snooping their user’s communications. In fact, many saw the technology companies who participated as legally responsible for what was widely perceived as a breach of proper conduct precipitated by an unconstitutional action by the US government.
While it certainly was a shocking revelation to discover that some of the biggest names in tech were giving the government access to their user’s communications, including names like: Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, AOL, Skype, You Tube, PalTalk and Apple – it is recently becoming apparent that there may have been significant governmental coercion involved.
The first company that was approached by the government when the program began in 2007 was Yahoo, and it was revealed in recently unsealed court documents, that Yahoo fought the government vociferously, against what it saw as an unconstitutional demand. Given the nature of the of the legal proceedings, we’re only finding out the details now, but in the approximately 1,500 pages that were recently released, Yahoo fought the demand, lost and appealed, before being ordered to cooperate by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Further, to ensure their immediate compliance, Yahoo was threatened with a $250,000 per day fine should they fail to cooperate. Additionally, the government received permission from the court to share the ruling with other tech companies they would approach, assuring they had a very large stick unsheathed in their arsenal for all subsequent meetings with the rest of the tech industry.
On Yahoo’s corporate blog, their General Counsel, Ron Bell, indicated that in addition to the original battle in the courts, they’ve been fighting to get the records of the proceedings released, which resulted in this most recent document release, and stated: “Users come first at Yahoo. We treat public safety with the utmost seriousness, but we are also committed to protecting users’ data. We will continue to contest requests and laws that we consider unlawful, unclear, or overboard.”