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12 Sep, 2013 10:06

Yahoo CEO claims she could have been jailed for defying NSA

Yahoo was unable to release classified data on the NSA as it would have amounted to treason, CEO Marissa Mayer told reporters. Speaking at a conference, Mayer and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described how they were obliged to comply with the NSA.

The CEOs of the two tech giants sought to dispel accusations of complicity in the NSA’s global spy program at a San Francisco Techcrunch press conference. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer addressed criticism that tech companies had done too little to resist NSA spying, stating that “it makes more sense to work within the system.”

She referenced Yahoo’s unsuccessful attempt to sue the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) in 2007. FISA is the official body that provides the legal backing for the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.

"When you lose and you don't comply, it's treason," said Mayer, stressing that the release of classified information is punishable with jail. She did, however, say that Yahoo has been “very skeptical” of the NSA requests that it has received to release user information.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg went one step further, accusing the US government of tipping the balance between citizen rights and its duty to protect.

“It’s our government’s job to protect all of us, and also to protect our freedom and the economy, and I think they did a bad job of balancing those things,” Zuckerberg said. “I think the government blew it.”

Zuckerberg went on to say that the Obama administration’s initial reaction to the NSA revelations worked against the interests of US tech firms operating abroad.

“And the government’s comment was, ‘Oh don’t worry, basically we’re not spying on any Americans,” said Zuckerberg. He added that he believes that Facebook’s efforts to push for more internet transparency “had made a big difference.”

At the beginning of this week Facebook and Yahoo joined Microsoft and Google in a lawsuit against the US government, pushing for the right to disclose the number of NSA requests they receive. Facebook asked to publish the total number of orders it receives relating to physical searches, business records and wiretap orders, as well as the total number of users, who had their messages and other personal content released to the NSA.

Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s security leaks blew the whistle on its Prism surveillance program that gathers internet data, tech giants have sought to clear their names in the face of accusations they were in cahoots with Washington. Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have branded the allegations as “false” and claim they were unaware that the NSA was gathering information through their servers.

The Obama administration has insisted that the NSA’s gathering of data is legal and in the interests of national security. The latest leak, released last week, revealed how the NSA is working in tandem with its UK counterpart, GCHQ, to break internet encryption, effectively eliminating internet privacy.