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U.S. government threatened Yahoo with big fine to provide data

Federal authorities previously threatened Yahoo with a fine of $250,000 if the company didn't comply with a broad request to hand over user communications.
A sign is posted in front of the Yahoo! headquarters on May 23, 2014 in Sunnyvale, Calif.
A sign is posted in front of the Yahoo! headquarters on May 23, 2014 in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Despite the new release of 1,500 pages of government documents detailing threats made to Yahoo beginning in 2007, the U.S. government continues to conceal portions of documents that could shed light on widespread government surveillance.

"Despite the declassification and release, portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team," Yahoo general counsel Rob Bell said in a statement. "The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. Government’s surveillance efforts. At one point, the U.S. Government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply."

The demand, viewed as "unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance" by Yahoo, was part of attempts by the U.S. government to force American technology companies to handover information as part of the National Security Agency's (NSA) controversial PRISM data-gathering operation. About 1,500 pages worth of court documents that were unsealed Thursday acknowledge the secret and unsuccessful battle by Yahoo to resist the government's demands. The company eventually became the first business to hand over information to the NSA as part of the PRISM program.

Yahoo commended the release of the documents.

"We consider this an important win for transparency, and hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering," Bell said in his statement.

The Washington Post and The Guardian last summer first reported on the PRISM program after receiving documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Under the operation, U.S. intelligence agencies were given access to digital files maintained by some of the country's top technology and internet companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. The data included emails, documents, photographs, video chats and connection logs.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is responsible for reviewing government requests to spy on individuals, ruled last July that information surrounding the 2008 case involving Yahoo to turn over customer data should be made public.

PRISM was launched during former President George W. Bush's program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, and remained a secret until 2013.