The revelation that Yahoo might have spied on all of its users’ emails on behalf of U.S. intelligence agencies underscores the need for by-default end-to-end encryption for electronic communications, according to privacy advocates. Meanwhile, other tech giants, including Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Apple, have denied receiving such surveillance requests or said they would not comply with such requests.
According to yesterday’s exclusive report by Reuters, Yahoo developed custom software so it could scan “hundreds of millions” of incoming email messages for specific types of information specified by the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It appears to be the first time an Internet service provider has searched such a large number of emails in real time for an intelligence agency, Reuters added, citing “some surveillance experts.”
Yahoo’s initial response to the Reuters report stated only, “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.” However, in a statement emailed to some news outlets this morning, a spokesperson quoted Yahoo as saying, “The article is misleading. We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”
Yahoo Response ‘Not Terribly Comforting’
Yahoo’s “meticulously worded” follow-up statement was “not terribly comforting,” Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute who closely follows “the intersection of privacy, technology and politics” noted in a tweet today. He added in a separate tweet, “What Yahoo could have easily said but didn’t: ‘We have not conducted such scanning. We produce content only about specific accounts.'”
Former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who first revealed the widespread government surveillance of personal email and telephone conversations in a 2013 document leak to the press, also commented on the news on Twitter…