Monday, 15 September 2014

Yahoo! Reveals US Government Threats

The unsealing of important documents relating to the NSA data spying scandal reveals details that support claims from Yahoo! and others about threats made against them by the US government.  Yahoo! has said that the National Security Agency (NSA) threatened them with fines of up to $250,000 per day for failing to hand over data.

Since news of the scandal broke last year, we have learned that the NSA siphoned data from nine different US firms including Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and others.  Now Yahoo! is petitioning the courts for further publication of details relating to the scandal that have not yet been released.

Yahoo! general counsel Ron Bell said his company was pleased with the judge's decision late last week to unseal nearly 1,500 pages of documents that were previously considered classified.  He said making information public was ‘an important win for transparency’.  None of the other affected companies had any official comments.

Nothing New

One of the most important revelations to come from the unsealing is the fact that the NSA spy programme is nothing new.  The agency has been gathering personal information from US data centres ever since a 2007 change in the law broadened their data gathering authority.  What was revealed by now-infamous NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year has apparently been going on for more than seven years.

Yahoo! maintains that it originally did not comply with NSA orders because it believed these to be unconstitutional however it lost its initial court battle when the NSA pressed the issue.  Yahoo! has since complied with NSA request, though reluctantly so.  The company says it continues to look for ways to fight what it still believes are unconstitutional intrusions by the NSA.

Big Brother Watching

It is important to continue keeping the story at the forefront of technology news.  What is happening with the US government is a clear example of big brother watching every move citizens make.  When the government has unfettered access to data communications on the basis of national security, nothing is sacred.  It needs only invoke a perceived danger to invade the privacy of anyone it chooses.

Make no mistake; the spying scandal is not limited to only the US.  The NSA was caught trying to gather information here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe;  nevertheless, it goes further than that.  If the US is engaged in such activity, it is reasonable to expect other world governments are doing the same.  Perhaps the only difference between Europe and the US is that no one has blown the whistle on us yet.

Data communications are supposed to be private unless there is a legitimate and provable threat to worry about.  In the absence of any provable threat, a government demanding private data for the purposes of protecting against a perceived future threat is dangerous in and of itself.  Under such conditions, we all become threats that need to be dealt with in whatever way the government sees fit.  This is not good by any measure.

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