Report: Yahoo scanned user emails at U.S. government’s request

Yahoo reportedly complied with a classified directive from U.S. intelligence last year and secretly built custom software to scan its users’ emails.

Citing unnamed sources, Joseph Menn of Reuters reports that the Sunnyvale internet company agreed to search all incoming messages at the request of the NSA or the FBI. It’s not known what exactly the government was looking for, nor what information it might have scooped up.

A Yahoo spokeswoman today sent SiliconBeat the same statement it sent Reuters: “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”

Yahoo was one of the tech companies caught up in Prism, one of the National Security Agency’s secret spying programs that was revealed in 2013 as a result of the Edward Snowden leaks. As part of Prism, the government accessed tech companies’ user information by tapping directly into their servers, according to media reports from the Guardian and the Washington Post at the┬átime. Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Apple and others denied giving the government direct access.

This latest news comes as Yahoo, whose core internet business is being sold to Verizon, is also dealing with fallout from its disclosure last month that it was hacked in 2014 and that at least 500 million user accounts were affected.

Reuters reports that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to comply with the directive, supposedly because the company didn’t think it would succeed in fighting the government, caused internal strife. Yahoo’s security team reportedly discovered the secret program within weeks of its installation, and it led to the resignation of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who is now Facebook’s chief security officer. Stamos is known as an outspoken critic of government surveillance.

Reaction from advocacy groups came quickly.

“Based on this report, the order issued to Yahoo appears to be unprecedented and unconstitutional,” Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an emailed statement. “The government appears to have compelled Yahoo to conduct precisely the type of general, suspicionless search that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit.”

 

Photo: A┬áperson walks in front of a Yahoo sign at the company’s headquarters in Sunnyvale in 2014. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

 

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