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18 Jun, 2013 18:06

Yahoo! confirms up to 13,000 US data requests

Yahoo! confirms up to 13,000 US data requests

Yahoo! Inc. said US law enforcement agencies had made between 12,000 and 13,000 request for user data over the last six months, making it the latest tech firm to reveal the extent of its involvement in the sweeping US surveillance program.

In a bid to reassure users following revelations of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM program, which targeted electronic communications en masse, Yahoo! revealed the extent of its dealings with US authorities.

The tech company reports that between December 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013, “we received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests, inclusive of criminal, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and other requests.  The most common of these requests concerned fraud, homicides, kidnappings, and other criminal investigations,” a statement by CEO Marissa Mayer and General Counsel Ron Bell read.

The company lamented that due to the classified nature of FISA requests, they were unable to reveal the number of requests directly tied to national security.

"We strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue," the statement continued.

Late Sunday, Apple said it had received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US authorities over the same time period, continuing that 9,000 to 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in the requests.

Facebook and Microsoft had previously disclosed requests for the second half of 2012.

Facebook said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests from all US entities, including US authorities over a six month period ending December 31.

AFP Photo / Nigel Treblin

Microsoft, meanwhile, said it received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts over the same period.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who blew the lid on two NSA data-collection programs, alleged that the agency had unfettered, real-time access to the content on the servers of Google, Facebook Microsoft, Yahoo and five other tech giants.

The companies have denied the claims, stating the so-called FISA 'gag order' tied their hands when it came to providing greater transparency regarding government requests for customer information.

Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI chief Robert Mueller asking the firm be granted permission to publish both the number and scope  of national security requests, including disclosures under FISA.

Government restrictions on disclosure of such data have fueled speculation "that our compliance with these requests gives the US government unfettered access to our users' data," PC world cites Drummond as saying. Apple further dismissed Snowden’s accusations they handed data over to the government at will, saying: "Only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities."

Facebook's general counsel Ted Ullyot further denied they colluded with the government on such a widespread scale. 

AFP Photo / Tang Chhin Sothy

"We aggressively protect our users' data when confronted with such requests; we frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested."

On Sunday during a live Q&A with the Guardian, Snowden repudiated the tech firms attempts to downplay their role in the surveillance program.

“Their denials went through several revisions as it become more and more clear they were misleading and included identical, specific language across companies. As a result of these disclosures and the clout of these companies, we're finally beginning to see more transparency and better details about these programs for the first time since their inception,” Snowden argued.

Snowden went so far to state that legal pressure from the government did not absolve the firm from broader ethical responsibilities.

“They are legally compelled to comply and maintain their silence in regard to specifics of the program, but that does not comply them from ethical obligation. If for example Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple refused to provide this cooperation with the Intelligence Community, what do you think the government would do? Shut them down?”

Yahoo! for its part said “Democracy demands accountability,” pledging the company would “continually evaluate whether further actions can be taken to protect the privacy of our users and our ability to defend it.”

Yahoo further announced plans to issue its first global law-enforcement transparency report later this summer and will update biannually with fresh statistics.