Yahoo is facing increased scrutiny after being accused of secretly building a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails at the request of the U.S. government.
Reuters reported Tuesday that the company complied with a classified U.S. government demand to scan hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts in search of specific phrases or sequences of characters. The report, which cites “people familiar with the matter,” noted that it is unclear what, if any, information Yahoo had handed over to government agencies.
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Many experts have noted that this is the first case of a U.S. internet company complying with a request to search all incoming emails, instead of scanning stored messages on a company’s server.
Yahoo has neither confirmed nor denied the report. In a statement to Reuters a company spokesperson said, “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”
It’s still unclear whether the alleged software searched only U.S. citizens’ emails, or if Canadian users were also impacted.
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But other tech companies have been quick to say they wouldn’t comply with similar demands – and if they received them, they would want users to know about it.
“We’ve never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: ‘no way,'” a Google spokesperson told Global News.
While Microsoft declined to comment on whether it had ever received a similar request, the company said it has “never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic.”
Facebook and Twitter both said they had not received similar requests and noted that if they did they would oppose them in court.
Apple, which fought a U.S. government order to hack an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters by creating custom software, maintained that it would fight these types of requests in court.
“We have never received a request of this type. If we were to receive one, we would oppose it in court,” said Apple.
Some have pointed out that Yahoo did not include anything about the government request in its transparency report, which is designed to inform users about government data requests.
“Yahoo discloses user data in response to valid legal process from a government agency with proper jurisdiction and authority. We carefully review government requests to determine the appropriate scope of data to be provided and interpret them narrowly in an effort to produce the least amount of data necessary to comply with the request,” reads Yahoo’s transparency report.
The company has fought government requests in the past. In 2007, Yahoo fought a FISA demand asking it to conduct searches on specific email accounts without a court-approved warrant. Details of the case remain sealed, but a partially redacted published opinion showed Yahoo‘s challenge was unsuccessful.
— With files from The Associated Press