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By | Iain Thomson 12th September 2014 02:08

US! govt! ordered! Yahoo! to! hand! over! user! data! or! pay! $250k! fine! PER! DAY!

That's gotta be worth a few exclamation marks

Yahoo! has tried to explain why it buckled under pressure from Uncle Sam to hand over its users' data to the US government - by promising to publish the court documents which ordered the snooping.

Said filings will, we're told, show Uncle Sam threatened to make Yahoo! pay a $250,000 fine for every day it refused to hand over citizens' sensitive data.

"The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US Government’s surveillance efforts," Ron Bell, Yahoo!'s general counsel, claimed.

"At one point, the US Government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply."

Bell said that the government first approached Yahoo! back in 2007 and demanded its databases for the NSA snooping program. The firm initially refused to do so, calling the order "unconstitutional and over-broad surveillance," which led to escalating threats from the government to try and force Yahoo!'s hand.

In the end the company was taken before the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and in 2008 the court ruled that Yahoo! must comply. The court's judgment was classified until 2013 but remained sealed thereafter. The bench has now agreed to unseal some of the documents following a request from Yahoo!'s lawyers.

More than 1,500 documents have been unsealed, we're told, and Yahoo! will release them shortly, Bell said. The documents include lower court rulings, a partially redacted copy of the government's original "request," and the court's contested opinion.

There are still a considerable amount of documents that won’t be declassified. And it's worth remembering that Yahoo!'s fight ultimately was useless because the NSA decided to secretly tap the firm's datacenter interlinks anyway.

The ACLU's Christopher Soghoian points out the $250k-a-day fine, assuming it stays constant, adds up to about $90m (£55.42m) a year; Yahoo!'s net income in 2008 was $424.3m.

"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 said.

"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 overbroad."

Web giants have taken a lot of stick after NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden revealed they fed users' files, records and other personal data in spies' databases.


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