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U.S. Threatened Yahoo With Huge Fines Over Refusal to Disclose User Data

Yahoo's resistance failed, but now details of its efforts are emerging.

The U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo as much as $250,000 per day over its refusal to turn over user data requested in 2007 and 2008.

In a blog post accompanying the release of some 1,500 pages worth of documents related to the case, Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell described how the company stood up against requests for the data, which Yahoo deemed “overbroad” and unconstitutional. The company was seeking to avoid being swept up into what’s now known as the National Security Agency’s PRISM program.

Yahoo challenged the government’s authority before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, two secret courts where hearings are conducted outside of public scrutiny and where lawyers who appear are required to have security clearance.

The court is so secret — it deals almost exclusively with surveillance requests from the NSA and the CIA — that until recently, even disclosing that a hearing had taken place was illegal. Yahoo, seeking to vindicate itself before the court of public opinion as anything but a willing player in the PRISM scheme, sought last year to win the right to disclose papers detailing its attempt to head off the requests.

While its arguments ultimately failed, the details of its battle are now out for public view. Yahoo intends to release the entire trove of documents and is still fighting with the courts to release more, according to Bell.

“We consider this an important win for transparency, and hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process and intelligence gathering,” Bell wrote.

Eventually, Yahoo was one of eight companies that provided data to the government under the auspices of the PRISM program, which itself remained a secret until disclosed by way of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Other companies, including Google and Microsoft, have won permission to release some statistics about the scope of the requests they’ve received for data from government agencies on user accounts.

This article originally appeared on

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