Re­port: Ya­hoo gave U.S. agen­cies ac­cess to email

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD -

NEW YORK — Ya­hoo scanned hun­dreds of mil­lions of in­com­ing emails at the be­hest of U.S. in­tel­li­gence or law en­force­ment, ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished Tues­day.

The in­ter­net com­pany con­ducted the sur­veil­lance last year af­ter re­ceiv­ing a clas­si­fied de­mand from the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency or the FBI, Reuters said in its story. The re­port cited three for­mer Ya­hoo em­ploy­ees and an­other uniden­ti­fied per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

Those in­di­vid­u­als told Reuters that the govern­ment pushed Ya­hoo to search for a string of letters, num­bers or other char­ac­ters. That meant the fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion could have in­volved find­ing a spe­cific phrase or code in the text of an email or an at­tach­ment.

Ya­hoo built a spe­cial soft­ware pro­gram to com­ply with the govern­ment’s re­quest, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

The Sun­ny­vale, Calif., com­pany did not deny the re­port in a Tues­day state­ment that de­scribed it­self as a com­pany “that com­plies with the laws of the United States.” The Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the FBI did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

The govern­ment’s re­ported de­mand to scan email in real time alarmed pri­vacy ad­vo­cates, as did Ya­hoo’s al­leged com­pli­ance with such a broad or­der. Pa­trick Toomey, a staff at- tor­ney with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, called the or­der “un­prece­dented and un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

Google, whose Gmail is the world’s largest email ser­vice, said Tues­day that it hadn’t re­ceived a sim­i­lar spy­ing re­quest from the U.S. govern­ment. If it had, Google said, its re­sponse would be, “No way.”

Mi­crosoft also said it has “never en­gaged in the se­cret scan­ning of email traf­fic.” Twit­ter, which doesn’t pro­vide email ser­vice but does al­low users to ex­change di­rect mes­sages, like­wise said it has never re­ceived such a re­quest and would chal­lenge it in court if it did.

The re­port will likely test the bounds of Ya­hoo users’ al­ready stressed loy­alty.

Ya­hoo late last month dis­closed that hack­ers had bro­ken into at least 500 mil­lion user ac­counts to steal email ad­dresses, birth­dates, phone num­bers and pass­words.

That theft, the big­gest breach ever at an email provider, oc­curred in 2014 when Ya­hoo’s se­cu­rity was run by Alex Sta­mos, who now holds a sim­i­lar job at Facebook. The co­op­er­a­tion with the govern­ment’s spy­ing on emails cre­ated a rift be­tween Sta­mos and Ya­hoo CEO Marissa Mayer, prompt­ing Sta­mos to leave in June 2015, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that when reached via Twit­ter di­rect mes­sage, Sta­mos said, “I’m not com­ment­ing at all.”

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