U.S. Government Threatened to Fine Yahoo $250,000/Day

Originally published on September 14, 2014, at NationofChange.org

Unsealed court documents reveal the U.S. government threatened Yahoo Inc. with $250,000 daily fines for refusing to hand over customer data to intelligence agencies in 2008. After losing in court, Yahoo and many major U.S. telecommunications corporations became complicit in the mass surveillance programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Taking desperate measures to ensure its secrecy, the government has rewritten the law to allow infringements upon the Fourth Amendment.

Instead of just requesting metadata, the Protect America Act of 2007 demanded telecom companies also provide full emails without a warrant. Although the law intended to target people outside of the U.S., the government admitted communications between Americans would likely be collected as well. After the Protect America Act lapsed, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 swiftly replaced it authorizing continued mass surveillance.

Contesting the order to provide the U.S. government with user data without a warrant, Yahoo waged a legal battle at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, FISC members hold secret sessions and often only hear from Justice Department and intelligence agency lawyers. Arguing that the Protect America Act was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Yahoo lost the case and was ordered to pay $250,000 for each day they refused to turn over customer data. The fine would have doubled for each successive week.

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