Yahoo has revealed that the US government threatened to fine the company a hefty $250,000 a day if it refused to supply the National Security Agency (NSA) with user data for its top-secret PRISM surveillance program.
The revelation came to light Thursday when the Web company secured the release of 1500 pages of once-secret court papers related to a battle it had with the US government seven years ago over the expansion of surveillance laws.
“In 2007, the US government amended a key law to demand user information from online services,” Yahoo explained in a blog post. “We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the US government’s authority.”
The company took its fight to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – a body that oversees requests by the US government for surveillance orders – but was ordered to hand over the data. A later appeal by Yahoo against the court’s decision was also rejected.
‘An important win for transparency’
Yahoo legal representative Rob Bell described this week’s release of the documents as “an important win for transparency,” adding that he hoped they would “help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering.”
Bell said the newly released papers demonstrate how Yahoo “had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government’s surveillance efforts.”
“At one point, the US government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply,” he said.
Documents leaked last year by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed how the NSA had been gathering user data from a long list of high-profile online companies and services – Yahoo among them – as part of its controversial PRISM program.
In a bid to reassure Yahoo users of the company’s commitment to the protection of online data, Bell promised the Web firm will “continue to contest requests and laws that we consider unlawful, unclear, or overbroad.”