Originally published September 19 2014
U.S. government threatened Yahoo with daily $250,000 fines to force handover of user data
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The federal government's dismantling of the Fourth Amendment's privacy protections is continuing unabated, with the latest reports describing attacks directed at media giant Yahoo!
Reports in early September said that the Obama Administration had issued threats to fine the mega-media corporation as much as a quarter-million dollars for each day the company refused to share data about its users. The fine would have doubled every week that Yahoo! failed to comply, according to court documents that have been recently unsealed.
U.S. News & World Report reported that the "release of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review documents related to a 2007-2008 case involving Yahoo, announced in a blog post by the company, shows how the government pressured Yahoo into handing over Internet data as part of the National Security Agency collection program known as PRISM."
The post, written by Yahoo's general counsel, Ron Bell, said the Internet giant is proceeding with its successful push to make those documents publicly available, as well as other documents.
"In 2007, the U.S. Government amended a key law to demand user information from online services. We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. Government's authority," Bell wrote.
"Our challenge, and a later appeal in the case, did not succeed. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) upheld the predecessor to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The Court ordered us to give the U.S. Government the user data it sought in the matter."
Getting release of the documents was a big deal for Yahoo
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor currently living under asylum granted by Russia, first leaked the government documents about the PRISM program to the press more than a year ago. The leak included revelations that the federal government monitored the data server of both Google and Yahoo as it sought to collect user data.
The FISA court is an instrument of the Intelligence Community. The court meets in secret to review and either approve or deny collection requests from intelligence agencies seeking to monitor subjects inside or outside of the United States. While the court has the authority to deny government intelligence collection requests, it rarely does so. Also, the NSA and the court rarely make public any decisions or documents related to requests, Bell said in his post, in which he boasted of the achievement of making the records public.
"We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. government's authority," Bell wrote. "We consider this an important win for transparency, and hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering."
Congress established the FISA court in 1978. The statutes authorize the chief justice of the United States to designate seven federal district court judges to review requests from the intelligence community. The judges serve for staggered, non-renewable terms of no more than seven years; until 2001, they were drawn from different judicial circuits.
'A matter of national security'
The government cited national security in demanding access to Yahoo's user data, The Associated Press reported.
"International terrorists, and (redacted) in particular, use Yahoo to communicate over the Internet," Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence at the time, said in court papers citing the government's position. "Any further delay in Yahoo's compliance could cause great harm to the United States, as vital foreign intelligence information contained in communications to which only Yahoo has access, will go uncollected."
In separate court papers, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey said the FISA court made a mistake in allowing Yahoo to challenge the Bush Administration demands for data.
"The government has conducted warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance for decades, and such surveillance has been upheld under the Fourth Amendment by every appellate court to decide the question," Mukasey wrote.
"The government's implementation of the Protect America Act is consistent with decades of past practice and adequately protects the privacy of U.S. persons," he said.
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