Yahoo’s court win shows government demanded private user info

Posted at 12:10 AM, Sep 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-13 00:10:04-04

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The public will soon get a broader glimpse at the still-secretive world of government data collection.

Yahoo said Thursday it won release of 1,500 pages of documents filed in a secret surveillance court. It said the documents stem from an unsuccessful lawsuit it brought in 2008 challenging the government’s right to demand user information.

The company won a victory last year when portions of previously-closed documents were ordered public. As it noted Thursday, disclosures from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are “extremely rare.”

The documents are a public relations victory for Yahoo: They presumably show it resisting orders to comply with the surveillance programs.

“At one point, the U.S. Government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply,” read the announcement from Ron Bell, Yahoo’s lawyer.

But they may also contain new information to fuel the public debate over the programs.

Among them is “a mostly unredacted” surveillance order from the federal government and the surveillance court ruling from the 2008 lawsuit. Yahoo was initially blocked from publicly releasing the decision.

Then began a months-long process of declassifying the documents, and the secretive court ruled Thursday the documents were ready for release. Yahoo said it was working to post the documents online.

Surveillance laws require Yahoo and other companies to collect information from users and are prohibited from telling the users about the collection.

Yahoo and other tech companies — Google, Facebook, Microsoft and LinkedIn — have been allowed to disclose broad numbers about how many surveillance requests they receive from federal authorities, and have called on the government to allow further releases.

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