Govt surveillance court order to Yahoo not likely to be declassified

© Kimberly White
The secret court order issued to Yahoo that allowed the US government to obtain user data was presented as a national security issue. This means that the nature of the court order will remain a secret for the foreseeable future.

This is bad news for Yahoo users who hoped for some transparency regarding government surveillance of their accounts. US officials claim that the court order they issued Yahoo handled sensitive material with regards to national security and is unlikely to be released even in a declassified form, Reuters reported.

The court order was issued under Title I of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to Reuters. This implies that the target could have been an agent of a foreign power and gives the government the right to collect transmissions between foreign powers and their agents.

Title I is often used for wiretapping a phone number of specific email account. The surveillance of Yahoo is the first publicly known use of the email tap.

In response to the continued silence about the court order, 30 advocacy groups sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, urging for the declassification of the search the government was conducting. Among them are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Brennan Center, Human Rights Watch and numerous others.

The American Civil Liberties Union has joined the push to pressure Clapper to reveal what the government was looking for, filing a motion in the surveillance court to unseal the Yahoo order.

In September, millions of Yahoo users were very upset to learn that government surveillance could have been privy to their emails. As users tried to flee the service following the revelation, Yahoo asked the government for permission to explain why a court order had been issued, or at least what the government was looking for.

Obama administration officials held a meeting last week with members of Congress and their staffers to explain the nature of the court order to Yahoo. While it is known that government surveillance was looking for a digital signature in emails, there is no information on what exactly it may have been.

Yahoo has attempted to give its users the transparency they’ve been demanding in the matter. Last week, the company made public a letter sent to Clapper, demanding the disclosure.

We urge your office to consider the following actions to provide clarity on the matter: confirm whether an order, as described in these media reports, was issued; declassify in whole or in part such order, if it exists; and make a sufficiently detailed public and contextual comment to clarify the alleged facts and circumstances,” the letter said.