Yahoo joins other tech firms by releasing request data, calling for looser restrictions


In this Oct. 14, 2010 photo, the exterior of Yahoo Inc. offices are seen in in Santa Clara, Calif. (Paul Sakuma/AP)
June 18, 2013

Yahoo has joined fellow technology firms Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google in releasing broad numbers outlining the data requests it received from the U.S. government between Dec. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013.

In that six-month period, the company said, it received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests for data. The most common requests concern fraud, homicide, kidnapping and other criminal investigations, but the aggregate number also includes some requests made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In a company blog post late Tuesday night, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and general counsel Ron Bell 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.”

Mayer and Bell also said the firm will begin releasing regular reports on global law enforcement requests twice a year.

Unlike other firms, however, Yahoo did not release the number of accounts covered by the requests for data it has received — meaning that it’s not clear how many Yahoo customers may have been affected by the government’s requests.

Yahoo’s call for the United States to allow companies to disclose more information on FISA requests comes after similar calls from Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google in the wake of news reports outlining a National Security Agency surveillance program that uses data from these consumer tech companies. In recent days, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have also released broad information on how many national-security related requests they’ve received from the U.S. government.

In an interview on “Charlie Rose” Monday night, President Obama again defended the NSA programs and said it’s a “false choice” to say that Americans have to choose between freedom and security. While some programs require trade-offs, he said, the U.S. government makes sure that it is making the “right trade-offs” when designing a program.

He also categorically denied that the NSA can listen to U.S. citizens’ telephone calls or target their e-mails without obtaining a court warrant.

Obama did not directly answer Rose’s question about whether the FISA court has ever turned down a request, saying that the number of requests are “surprisingly small” and that both a federal FISA court and Congress have oversight of the program.

“My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism,” Obama said, “but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances?”

He also said that the slides released by Edward Snowden do not tell the whole story about the programs and that he’s asked the Intelligence Committee to see how much of the program it can declassify without “further compromising the program.”

Related stories:

Apple received more than 4,000 government requests for customer data over six months

Facebook, Microsoft release number of data requests from government

Snowden defends his NSA leaks in a live chat on Guardian Web site

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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