Menu
US tech giants say they didn't do Yahoo-style email spying

US tech giants say they didn't do Yahoo-style email spying

Yahoo's program may have been spying on hundreds of millions of users' accounts

Reports of a secret Yahoo program to search through customers' incoming emails has spurred other tech companies to deny ever receiving a similar request from the U.S. government.

The program, reportedly created last year through a classified U.S. order, involves Yahoo searching through hundreds of millions of user accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI.

Other U.S. tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, denied doing anything like it. Most also said they would challenge such a request in court.

Privacy advocates said the government enlisting Yahoo to assist in email monitoring would be wrong.

"The order issued to Yahoo appears to be unprecedented and unconstitutional," said an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement. "It is deeply disappointing that Yahoo declined to challenge this sweeping surveillance order."

Other legal experts aren't so sure. The whole issue underscores a legal gray area that the tech industry and the U.S. government have yet to clarify, said Roy Hadley, a lawyer at Thompson Hine who studies privacy issues.

"Whether it's unconstitutional is one of those things that's open to debate," he said. "We really don't have any national law that has been interpreted on that subject."

It's no secret that the U.S. routinely requests user data from the tech industry to help with its surveillance efforts. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed more details of the government's practices in 2013.

The Yahoo initiative may have gone beyond other information requests by being more broad in scope. Reportedly, the company was searching through the incoming emails of all its customers in real time, meaning it may even have been spying on users outside the U.S.

It's possible this violated privacy laws in other countries, Hadley said. "Europe has far more robust privacy rights than the United States," he said.

Cybersecurity experts also wonder whether Yahoo complied with similar requests from foreign governments.

"We don't know if Yahoo is allowing other governments to also do this surveillance," said Jeremiah Grossman, chief of security strategy at SentinelOne. "It sounds to me like they would."

Yahoo hasn't publicly provided any details of the program or even confirmed its existence. On Tuesday, the company simply said, "Yahoo is a law-abiding company and complies with the laws of the United States."

Yahoo's mass email searching program could be one of several already in place, said Michael Sutton, CISO at security firm Zscaler. Internet companies increasingly are encrypting their data, making it harder for law enforcement to extract information through its own surveillance programs.

"They can't defeat the encryption, so they really have no choice but to make the service provider their partner in this," he said. "I think you are going see more programs like this because the intelligence community can't do this on its own."

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Slideshows

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016

Reseller News looks back on a tumultuous 12 months for the New Zealand channel, assessing the fallout from a year of sizeable industry change. Whether it be local or global mergers and acquisitions, distribution deals or job changes, the channel that started the year differs somewhat to the one set to finish it - Reseller News assesses the key moments that made 2016.​

Top 50 defining moments of the New Zealand channel in 2016
​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel

​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel

Hewlett Packard Enterprise honoured its top performing Kiwi partners at the second running of its HPE Partner Awards in New Zealand, held at a glitzy ceremony in Auckland. Recognising excellence across eight categories - from distributors to resellers - the tech giant celebrated its first year as a standalone company, following its official split from HP in 2015.

​Hewlett Packard Enterprise honours high achieving NZ channel
Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise

Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise

Nutanix recently took to the seas for a Christmas Cruise around Sydney Harbour with its Australia and New Zealand staff, customers and partners to celebrate a stellar year for the vendor. With the sun out, they were all smiles and mingled over drinks and food.

Nutanix treats channel partners to Christmas cruise
Show Comments