WASHINGTON – Pressure on Yahoo soared Tuesday after publication of a report that it had collaborated with U.S. intelligence agencies to secretly scan hundreds of millions of its clients’ emails.
The report by the Reuters news agency said Yahoo complied with a classified U.S. government directive last year demanding that it scan all incoming emails of its users for certain phrases. Yahoo’s engineers wrote a program to carry out the request, the report said.
Cybersecurity experts immediately demanded that their clients halt using Yahoo Mail, and it cast new pressure on the Sunnyvale, California, company as it attempts to finalize a $4.8 billion sale of its core business to Verizon.
“Enough is enough. It’s time to close your Yahoo account,” Graham Cluley, a British cybersecurity expert, tweeted following the report.
The American Civil Liberties Union directed its criticism not at Yahoo but at the federal government.
“The government appears to have compelled Yahoo to conduct precisely the type of general, suspicionless search that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit,” said ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey. “It is deeply disappointing that Yahoo declined to challenge this sweeping surveillance order, because customers are counting on technology companies to stand up to novel spying demands in court.”
“If Yahoo is indeed scanning the content of all of its customers’ emails at the NSA’s behest, that would appear to violate the Fourth Amendment,” echoed Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
“It’s also a violation of customers’ privacy and trust. It’s disturbing to learn that the NSA was secretly expanding its surveillance reach at the very same time Congress was attempting to rein it in,” added Goitein, who is co-director of the Center’s Liberty and National Security Program.
Neither Yahoo nor the FBI immediately reacted to the Reuters report.
The report comes less than a month after the internet service provider revealed that hackers had stolen the passwords of 500 million Yahoo users.
A nemesis of the federal government, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked top secret information about the National Security Agency, also called on Yahoo users to take action.
“Use @Yahoo? They secretly scanned everything you ever wrote, far beyond what law requires. Close your account today,” Snowden tweeted.
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