Yahoo Seeks to Reveal Fight Against NSA to Keep info Private

Thursday, 11 Jul 2013 01:40 PM

By Lisa Barron

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Yahoo is taking legal action to unseal court records in a 2008 case involving government requests for tech companies to provide information on their customers.

In a filing this week with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the company argued that releasing the files would show that Yahoo "objected strenuously" to the government's demands and would help the public understand how surveillance programs are approved under federal law, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

In the 2008 case, the court ruled against Yahoo's objection to data-gathering, giving the government power to persuade other tech companies to comply with its surveillance efforts, according to the newspaper.

But the court's ruling and the arguments by Yahoo and other companies have until now been treated as classified information.

Yahoo was not even allowed to reveal its involvement in the case until last month, when The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, that said the company had unsuccessfully fought the data requests on constitutional grounds.

After that report, Yahoo persuaded the court to declassify just the fact that it was the company in that case.

If Yahoo wins its case this time, legal experts say, it would provide greater insight into the National Security Agency's rationale for its phone and Internet surveillance program known as Prism, which was revealed last month in a leak to newspapers by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.

"If Yahoo is successful in revealing what the court did and why, then we will know more about the laws our government is purportedly operating under, which sadly we don't currently know," Jennifer Stisa Granick, a civil-liberties expert at Stanford University law school's Center for Internet and Society, told the Mercury News.

"This is the first time we've seen one of these companies making this broad an argument in favor of transparency in the (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) court," Alex Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the newspaper.

Abdo said only a handful of the court's opinions have been unsealed despite pressure from civil-liberties groups for greater disclosure.

Yahoo attorney Marc Zwillinger wrote in a recent blog post, "I think there are better ways to protect the rights of U.S. persons who may be affected by this surveillance. If more of the Court’s analysis, and the parties’ briefs, are made available, the public and Congress can make a more informed decision as to whether this is the program they want to have in place."

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