Yahoo fights report about scanning users’ email for U.S. government

Yahoo is fighting back against a damning report that it created a software program to scan its users’ emails as it complied with a U.S. government directive.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Sunnyvale company last year secretly created software to help government spy types — either the NSA or FBI — directly access information about Yahoo users. The program was reportedly so secret that the company’s own chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, didn’t know about it, and left the company as a result.

“The article is misleading,” Yahoo said in an emailed statement this morning. “We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”

When reached by SiliconBeat, a Yahoo spokesman said he had no further comment. Today’s statement came after Yahoo neither confirmed nor denied the Reuters report Tuesday, saying only that it complies with U.S. laws.

The company, which is in the process of being bought by Verizon and already is dealing with the aftermath of a recently revealed hack that may have affected at least 500 million users, was thoroughly slammed Tuesday after the Reuters report. The scope of the collection of information — sifting through all incoming emails — was called unprecedented.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, security experts and others called on Yahoo users to delete their accounts. In addition, advocacy groups such as the ACLU raised questions about the reported program’s apparent disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure.

The report by Reuters comes three years after Snowden’s leaks of NSA documents revealed the scope of government spying, including a program called Prism in which the government directly accessed information of tech users. Tuesday, some of the companies linked to Prism, such as Apple, Google and Microsoft, again issued denials that they’ve helped the government by providing so-called backdoor access to user information.

Yahoo’s critics aren’t satisfied with today’s statement, pointing to its wording. Snowden tweeted:

And from ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian:


Photo: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, shown here in 2014, reportedly decided to comply with a government directive and ordered the creation of a program that scanned users’ emails. The company today issued a statement that calls the Reuters report misleading. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)


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