Constitutional Principles

Government Threatened to Fine Yahoo $250,000 a Day if it Didn’t Cooperate on Surveillance

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The U.S. government threatened Yahoo with hefty fines after it challenged it on surveillance.

According to AFP via Yahoo! News, court documents reveal Uncle Sam threatened to fine the tech giant $250,000 a day if it didn’t hand over user data in the name of national security.

As noted in the report, Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said in a blog post that Uncle Sam “amended a key law to demand user information from online services” in 2007.

“We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the US government’s authority,” he reportedly said.

But as noted in the report, Yahoo lost its court battle. The company was forced to hand over US user data.

According to the story, 1,500 pages of court documents have been released. But Bell cautioned that “despite the declassification and release, portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team.”

The documents reportedly show that the Sunnyvale, California-based company challenged the constitutionality of the government’s requests. In one brief, it said they were “unconstitutional because they permitted warrantless surveillance of US persons’ private communications without prior judicial review, and were not reasonable.”

“The US Supreme Court has never sanctioned warrantless surveillance of US citizens,” it reportedly said in another brief.

As noted in the report, a document said Yahoo began cooperating with the government order on May 12, 2008 on “priority user accounts for which the government wanted surveillance.”

Meanwhile, this apparently wasn’t the only threat involving this situation. Last year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer suggested she and her colleagues would have gone to prison if they revealed the extent of government surveillance.

Photo credit: Flickr/Revolweb