Yahoo Files Suit Demanding Greater Accountability from the U.S. Government

By: Ron Bell, General Counsel

Yahoo filed suit in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) this morning demanding the right to publicly disclose the number of user data requests that we receive from the U.S. Government under national security statutes. This latest effort to fight for our users follows the release of our first transparency report last week, as well as a series of legal actions we’ve taken in the FISC urging the U.S. Government to make additional information available to the public.

The numbers we shared within our transparency report for the United States include all types of government data requests, such as criminal law enforcement requests and those under U.S. national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and National Security Letters (NSLs), if any were received.

We filed the suit today because we are not authorized at present to break out the number of requests, if any, that we receive for user data under specific national security statutes. The U.S. Government prohibits companies from disclosing this information.

We believe that the U.S. Government’s important responsibility to protect public safety can be carried out without precluding Internet companies from sharing the number of national security requests they may receive. Ultimately, withholding such information breeds mistrust and suspicion—both of the United States and of companies that must comply with government legal directives.

Later today we will participate in President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology where we’ll have the opportunity to connect directly around issues at the intersection of national security and technology, including transparency.

The United States should lead the world when it comes to transparency, accountability, and respect of civil liberties and human rights. The U.S. Government’s recent decision to release aggregate annual data about its requests for phone call logs and Internet chats was an important first step in this direction. Granting our petition for greater transparency around national security requests for user data is a critical second step.