Yahoo! joins! rivals! in! PRISM! data! request! admission!
Keep calm and carry on using American tech firms, folks
Yahoo! has become the latest big-hitting American tech firm to reveal exactly how much information it has handed to US spooks.
Marissa Mayer's outfit joined Apple, Facebook and Microsoft in releasing the number of sensitive data requests made by spies and law enforcement agencies.
The tech giants want to reassure customers and prospective clients that they are not being spied upon in the wake of the PRISM surveillance scandal.
In a joint statement, Marissa Mayer, CEO and Ron Bell, general counsel, said her firm had processed between 12,000 and 13,000 information requests.
The most common requests involved "fraud, homicides, kidnappings and other criminal investigations", as well as requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Yahoo was keen to point out that it could not reveal how many FISA requests it received.
Apple said it had received between 4,000 and 5,000 data requests in the same period. Microsoft and Facebook released information covering the latter half of 2012, where the social network said it had processed between 9,000 and 10,000 requests. Microsoft said it had dealt with between 6,000 and 7,000.
"We’ve worked hard over the years to earn our users’ trust and we fight hard to preserve it," Yahoo!'s statement said.
"Like all companies, Yahoo! cannot lawfully break out FISA request numbers at this time because those numbers are classified. However, we strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue.
"Democracy demands accountability. Recognizing the important role that Yahoo! can play in ensuring accountability, we will issue later this summer our first global law enforcement transparency report, which will cover the first half of the year. We will refresh this report with current statistics twice a year.
"As always, we will continually evaluate whether further actions can be taken to protect the privacy of our users and our ability to defend it. We appreciate—and do not take for granted—the trust you place in us."
In an interview with non-profit telly broadcaster PBS, President Barack Obama insisted that the NSA spying scheme was legal – and, in a piece of textbook doublespeak, even insisted the programme was "transparent", despite the fact operations are planned and authorised under a cloak of secrecy.
He said this desire for openness had inspired the creation of a secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorises a programme to harvest American phone records and monitor US servers if it is suspected they are being used by foreign terror suspects.
In a bid to reassure a nervous public, Obama claimed to be setting up a board to monitor privacy and civil liberties, which will also decide how much data spies are allowed to harvest. He also promised to keep the public informed about government surveillance programmes in the future.
"We're going to have to find ways where the public has an assurance that there are checks and balances in place ... that their phone calls aren't being listened into; their text messages aren't being monitored; their emails are not being read by some big brother somewhere," Obama said.
"What I've asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program... And they are in that process of doing so now," he added.
Edward Snowden, the IT worker behind the PRISM leak, is still at large in Hong Kong and gave a live webchat interview to The Guardian yesterday. He said: "All I can say right now is the US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."
Nine tech firms are alleged to be involved in the PRISM programme, although it is not clear if some or all of them would have been unwitting participants. So far, all of the firms have said that they require the police and other government workers to present them with a court order on a case-by-case basis before they will allow access to any data and none have copped to providing unfettered access to the Feds. Apple, for instance, said: "We first heard of the government’s 'Prism' program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6." ®