Published: Sun, October 09, 2016
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Yahoo gives United States intelligence access to users' emails, report says

Yahoo! built a custom software for secretly searching the incoming emails of its hundreds of millions of users to comply with a classified United States government demand previous year, reported Reuters. In a statement issued today, Yahoo downplayed the report, saying that it "narrowly interpret [s] every government request for user data to minimize disclosure". "The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems", the company said in an email.

Former Yahoo employees had told Reuters that security staff disabled the scanning program after they discovered it.

Exactly what intelligence officials were looking for is not known, neither is the type of data Yahoo may have handed over, or if other email providers were approached with similar requests.

Stamos who is holding a high-level security position at Facebook declined to comment on the report. Sometime in late 2014, state-sponsored hackers stole the names, email addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, passwords and security question of 500 million user accounts.

Microsoft, whose email service is larger than Yahoo's, said it had "never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic". Yahoo built a special software programme to comply with the government's request.

Google, Facebook and Twitter told the BBC they had never received such a request and would challenge it if requested.

The NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have yet to respond to a request for comment. The government appears to have compelled Yahoo to conduct precisely the type of general, suspicionless search that the Fourth Amendment was meant to prohibit.

Such demands can be contested in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but the implication is that Mayer chose to roll over instead.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, pictured at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco in 2015, complied with a USA government order to scan all user email according to reports from Reuters and the New York Times.

U.S. intelligence agencies said the hack was thought to be "state-sponsored" but that claim was refuted by cyber security firm InfoArmor.

Yahoo is now in the process of being taken over by Verizon Communications in a $4.8bn (£3.8bn) deal.

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