WTF? Yahoo spied on email customers for U.S. government

by: Obert Madondo |  | Published October 5, 2016, by The Canadian Progressive

According to Reuters, Yahoo secretly scanned all of its customer's incoming emails in response to directives from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Photo: Esther Vargas / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to Reuters, Yahoo secretly scanned all of its customer’s incoming emails in response to directives from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Photo: Esther Vargas / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Yahoo’s latest transparency report is a sick joke.

Reuters reported Tuesday that Yahoo secretly scanned all of its customer’s incoming emails in response to directives from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

According to Reuters:

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

In its latest transparency report, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer claimed: “We’ve worked hard over the years to earn our users’ trust and we fight hard to preserve it.”

Citing “half a dozen current and former company employees,” last month, the New York Times reported that Mayer de-prioritized security after she took over in 2012.  Also last month, several media outlets reported that hackers recently struck Yahoo and stole the credentials of 500 million users. The breach went undetected for two years.

Responding to the Reuters report, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted:

Snowden’s massive 2013 NSA leaks revealed how the the agency abused its authority through indiscriminate bulk surveillance of US and foreign citizens. The leaks helped to educate the Canadian public about the existence of mass government surveillance. About the existence of Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canada’s highly secretive national electronic intelligence agency.

Snowden’s extra-ordinary act of conscience confirmed that “CSEC conducted espionage activities for U.S. in 20 countries,” conducted widespread surveillance in Canada during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Toronto, and spied on Canadian travelers.

The Toronto Star has reported that “Canada actively spied for NSA.” According to documents published by award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald in his recent book, No Place To Hide, the NSA paid Canada $300,000 to help develop its surveillance program.

After the Snowden revelations, most tech companies made assurances that they’d strengthen their communications infrastructures. That they’d vigorously push back against intrusive government surveillance.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali, the head of technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International said the Reuters revelations “demonstrate the failure of US government reforms to curb NSA’s tendency to try and indiscriminately vacuum up the world’s data.”

“For a company to secretly search all incoming emails of all its customers in response to a broad government directive would be a blow to privacy and a serious threat to freedom of expression,” said Elsayed-Ali. “The NSA has clearly not changed its spots. This is a clear sign that people can trust neither their government nor their service providers to respect their privacy: only end-to-end encryption that keeps their communications away from prying eyes will do. Free speech online, and in society in general, cannot thrive in a world where governments can pry into our private lives at will.”

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He's the founder and editor of these independent publications: The Canadian Progressive, a political blog dedicated to progressive Canadian journalism; The Zimbabwean Progressive, a political blog dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented Zimbabwean journalism; and Charity Files, a publication dedicated to journalism in the charitable public's interest. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad