A secret and scrappy court battle that Yahoo launched to resist the NSA’s PRISM spy program came to an end in 2008 because the Feds threatened the internet giant with a massive $250,000 a day fine if it didn’t comply.
The detail of the threat became public today after 1,500 pages worth of documents were unsealed in the case, revealing new information about the aggressive battle the Feds fought to force the company to bow to its demands. The information was first reported by the Washington Post following a blog post published by Yahoo’s general counsel disclosing that the documents had been unsealed and revealing for the first time the government’s threat of a fine.
Yahoo fought to unseal the case documents to provide better transparency about the government’s data collection programs and the FISA Court’s controversial history in approving nearly every data request the government makes.
The company disputed the initial order in 2007 because it deemed the bulk demand for email metadata to be unconstitutionally broad, but it lost that fight both in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and during appeal to the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review. It was among the first of nine internet companies to fall to the government’s demands for customer data and was a crucial win for the Feds since they were allowed to wield the ruling as part of their demand to other companies to comply.
Each of the internet companies fell in line with the program at separate times in the wake of that ruling.
“The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. Government’s surveillance efforts,” Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a post published after the unsealing. “At one point, the U.S. Government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply.”