Yahoo Reportedly Built Tool To Snoop On All Its Emails For U.S. Government

Image courtesy of Morton Fox

It’s one thing to comply with a court order from law enforcement seeking access to a user’s email account; it’s another to build a tool specifically to help U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies eavesdrop on those online discussions. A new report claims that Yahoo did just that last year by creating a program that allowed the company to scour all of its messages on behalf of the government.

Reuters, citing anonymous people familiar with the matter (including two former Yahoo employees), reports that the once-huge online relic built this searching tool at the behest of either the FBI or the National Security Agency.

The idea was to have the ability to search all Yahoo messages in real time, as opposed to having to cherry pick from smaller targeted groups of emails and users.

Unlike other massive government data-gathering programs, some of which were criticized for casting so large a net that they would never be able to sort quality intelligence from the mountains of irrelevant messages, Reuters reports that this program instructed Yahoo to search for certain characters among all incoming messages. The nature of that search is otherwise unspecified.

The sources tell Reuters that the government made this request through the Yahoo legal team and that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was aware of her company’s compliance with the government’s request.

Some executives at the company who were aware of the program voiced their displeasure, according to the unnamed sources. This issue may have even been the reason for the 2015 departure of Yahoo’s Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos. He’s now heading up security for Facebook.

In response to the Reuters story, Yahoo would only say that it is “is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”

While some experts say it’s likely that the government approached other email providers with a similar request, it’s not yet known if any requests were indeed made or if Yahoo was the only company to comply.

This news comes on the heels of an up-and-down few months for Yahoo. In July, Verizon agreed to buy Yahoo’s online businesses for $4.8, significantly more than the company was originally estimated to go for.

Then in late September, Yahoo confirmed that it had been the victim of a massive data breach affecting some 500 million email accounts, which has subsequently led to lawsuits, scrutiny from lawmakers, and questions about the future of the Verizon merger.