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Yahoo!: We! tried! to! protect! your! info! ... secret! court! case! will! prove! it!

If unsealed, 2008 legal docs could answer lots of questions

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Yahoo! has launched a fresh bid to reveal the top secret workings of the US surveillance state and prove it did not voluntarily hand over its customer's data to NSA spooks.

The Purple Palace wants to lift a seal on a 2008 court case in which the firm "strenuously objected" to the National Security Agency's requests for its customers' info. Yahoo! was overruled and the US government was subsequently given powers to harvest information from major internet firms.

Yahoo! outlined its request in a filing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, the Mercury News reports.

Until last month, when news broke about the NSA's top-secret PRISM surveillance programme, Yahoo! was not even allowed to say it was a party in the court case, which was kept classified under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

If details of the court case are released, it would shed light on the workings of the NSA and the methods they use to spy on foreign nationals as well as American citizens.

"Release of this Court's decision and the parties' briefing is necessary to inform the growing public debate about how this Court considers and examines the Government's use of directives," Yahoo! attorneys Marc Zwillinger and Jacob Sommer wrote in a filing to the FISA court. "Courts have long recognized the public has a right to access court records."

Yahoo! has already released details of exactly how many times spooks made data requests, but it is not allowed to say exactly how many were made under secret FISA legislation, which allows spooks to ask for personal data.

Its most recent court filing is the most explicit assault any internet firm has made on the secrecy surrounding the FISA courts, according to Alex Abdo, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

He told 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 FISA court."

The existence of the NSA's PRISM surveillance system was first revealed by IT boffin-turned-deepthroat Edward Snowden, who is still on the run from US authorities. He revealed spies could snoop on users of most of the world's common communications services through metadata from online communications and mobile phone call records.

The public still does not know the full details of NSA spying, something all of the big internet firms want to change. Facebook, Microsoft and Google all want to reassure customers around the world that they didn't simply allows spooks to have unfettered access to their servers, but only responded to specific requests.

"Revealing what went on in the court is critical to having a democracy," Jennifer Stisa Granick, from Stanford University law school's Centre for Internet and Society, told the paper. "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." ®

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