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June 18, 2013

Yahoo Goes Public With Governmental Data Requests

Technology Firm has Received 12,000 to 13,000 Requests in Past Six Months

Yahoo received 12,000 to 13,000 requests for user data in the past six months from U.S. law enforcement agencies, CEO Marissa Mayer revealed in a joint blog post with general counsel Ron Bell late Monday.

Yahoo is the latest technology company to release the number of national security-related requests it has received in recent months, following the examples of Microsoft, Facebook and Apple.

The companies all obtained permission from the federal government after petitioning Attorney General Eric Holder for increased “transparency.”

The 12,000 to 13,000 criminal, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and other requests requests occurred between Dec. 1, 2012 and May 31. A substantial portion of the requests concerned fraud, homicides, kidnappings, and other criminal investigations.

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer

“Like all companies, Yahoo cannot lawfully break out FISA request numbers at this time because those numbers are classified; however, we strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue,” Mayer and Bell said in the blog.

“Democracy demands accountability.  Recognizing the important role that Yahoo! can play in ensuring accountability, we will issue later this summer our first global law enforcement transparency report, which will cover the first half of the year.  We will refresh this report with current statistics twice a year.”

“As always, we will continually evaluate whether further actions can be taken to protect the privacy of our users and our ability to defend it.  We appreciate—and do not take for granted—the trust you place in us.”

A handful of prominent technology firms began requesting government transparency last week in attempts to distance themselves from reports earlier this month that the National Security Agency and the FBI are monitoring all of the biggest U.S. Internet companies with their full co-operation as part of its hush-hush surveillance program PRISM.

The Washington Post and The Guardian, which received top-secret information about PRISM courtesy of whistleblower Edward Snowden, published stories indicating Yahoo, Google, Facebook and a number of other companies willingly joined the government surveillance plan. According to The Post’s report the providers handed over such things as e-mails, video and voice chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of activity, online social networking details and special requests.

It turns out, however, that The Post and The Guardian misinterpreted the documentation. None of the companies named in the original reports — Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple — have granted the NSA access to their servers. Many of the companies have since said they comply with requests for information only when forced by law.