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Yahoo says claims of sweeping surveillance 'categorically false'

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Marissa Mayer Yahoo CEO (STOCK)
Marissa Mayer Yahoo CEO (STOCK)

Yahoo, one of ten companies mentioned in a leaked document about NSA and FBI surveillance, has echoed Facebook, Google, and others in denying that it provides broad access to user data. In a blog post intended to "set the record straight," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said that claims about Yahoo allowing the government to snoop through its files are false. "Yahoo! has not joined any program in which we volunteer to share user data with the U.S. government," Bell said. "We do not voluntarily disclose user information. The only disclosures that occur are in response to specific demands."

Bell acknowledged that Yahoo disclosed data when legally required to do so but said that it fights "any requests that we deem unclear, improper, overbroad, or unlawful. We carefully scrutinize each request, respond only when required to do so, and provide the least amount of data possible consistent with the law."

The notion that Yahoo! gives any federal agency vast or unfettered access to our users’ records is categorically false. Of the hundreds of millions of users we serve, an infinitesimal percentage will ever be the subject of a government data collection directive. Where a request for data is received, we require the government to identify in each instance specific users and a specific lawful purpose for which their information is requested. Then, and only then, do our employees evaluate the request and legal requirements in order to respond — or deny — the request.

Like several other companies, which denied ever even hearing the PRISM name, Yahoo has directly said it is not involved with the project or anything like it. Notably, it doesn't include the oft-repeated "direct access" phrasing, instead more generally rejecting the idea of granting "vast" access. Google has made very similar statements about the selectivity of its disclosures, also saying that it reviewed each request and insisting that it had no "drop box" or any other form of backdoor that allowed government access. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, said he had not received any bulk requests for information.

Since the initial Washington Post report about PRISM, sources have disagreed with the notion that PRISM collected information without oversight, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has reiterated that it occurs within the bounds of Section 702 of FISA and that the NSA takes pains to minimize the amount of data collected. The overall secrecy of its endeavors, however, has made it difficult to ascertain the truth.