Yahoo Scanned All Incoming Customer Emails For US Intelligence

The US Internet company created custom software that scanned all customers' incoming mail in search of specific keywords requested by both the NSA and FBI.


Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer       Credit – AP

Yahoo Inc. stands accused of building custom software that searched through ALL of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information requested by US intelligence. The company decided to comply with classified US government demands, which resulted in the scanning of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts. This was done per the request of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI, according to three former Yahoo employees who spoke to Reuters. This incident is the first case of a US Internet company searching all of its customers’ arriving messages at the behest of US Intelligence to be made public. However, it remains unknown exactly what information the intelligence officials were after, though they asked Yahoo to search for a specific set of keywords in the scanned emails.

According to former Yahoo employees, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to comply with US intelligence demands angered some senior executives and led to the departure of at least one. In response to this damning revelation, the company responded: “Yahoo is a law abiding company and complies with the laws of the United States.” They declined to comment further on the matter. Yahoo in the past had fought against US Intelligence demands before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but it appears that this time they chose not push back.

Many US phone and internet companies have been caught handing over bulk customer data to US intelligence agencies before, largely thanks to the revelations brought forth by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. However, even government officials and private surveillance experts expressed surprise at the scope of Yahoo’s wiretap, saying they had not previously seen such a broad demand for real-time collection that required the creation of its own specialized software program. According to Albert Gidari, the lawyer who represented phone and Internet companies on surveillance issues for over 20 years, seconded these claims and said that he had never seen such a program, commenting that “It would be really difficult for a provider to do that.” It currently remains unknown if other US Internet companies, such as Google, had complied to the same or to similar demands from US intelligence.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Yahoo has been charged with negligence in safeguarding its customers’ privacy and private data. Yahoo came under fire last month for failing to protect its customers’ data from a massive hack, which stole data from over 500 million users. This data included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, encrypted passwords, and security questions/answers.

The company speculated that the hack’s origins dated back to as far as 2014, meaning that nearly two years went by before the breach was detected. Many Yahoo employees blamed CEO Mayer for the hack, who allegedly prioritized other concerns over internal security. This may have led the previously mentioned employees to come forward regarding Yahoo’s accord with US intelligence agencies. All of this controversy at an inopportune time for Yahoo as Verizon communications, one of the US’ largest telecommunications companies, is in the process of acquiring the company for $4.8 billion. It remains to be seen if last month’s hack and recent revelations will affect the planned merger.

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