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The NSA Was Going to Fine Yahoo $250K a Day If It Didn't Join PRISM

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When we first learned about NSA metadata collection, we wondered how readily the biggest tech companies acquiesced to the government. Today we start to find out. This is the story of how Yahoo was coerced into PRISM, as told by court documents cited by the Washington Post today.

According to the documents, corroborated by a blog post made public today by Yahoo—the U.S. government first approached the company in 2007 asking for user metadata. The request was unprecedented: The U.S. government was no longer interested in obtaining a court review before requesting metadata on an individual target. The order simply asked for data on targets located outside of the U.S. at the time, be they foreign or U.S. citizens.


Yahoo challenged the government requests several times, citing the limits of the U.S. Constitution, but was denied in the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review, the "secret courts" that oversee surveillance requests regarding national security. The repeated denials, plus the threat of losing $250,000 a day, forced Yahoo to comply with the NSA's PRISM program.

For its part, the U.S. government used Yahoo as an example to coerce other American tech giants, sharing the rulings against Yahoo with companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple.


This information comes to light today, as roughly 1,500 pages of documents pertaining to Yahoo's failed legal battle were released by Federal Judge William C. Bryson, who presides over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Yahoo requested the unsealing of the documents, and the company's Ron Bell says in this blog post that Yahoo is working to make these never-before-released documents available on Tumblr.

Now that the courts are unsealing documents surrounding PRISM and other national surveillance programs, it's possible that we'll hear about other tech companies and whether they resisted the NSA's requests for sweeping data dumps. Judging by what we've learned today, Yahoo tried to stick up for its users' privacy—until it couldn't afford to. [The Washington Post]