Yahoo is urging the U.S. government to publicly explain why it compelled the online company to scan the content in its users’ email accounts. The request, contained in a letter published on Wednesday, comes on the heels of a report that the online giant scanned all of its users’ incoming emails for a specific string of characters, following a request by the U.S. government in 2015.
In a letter to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Yahoo’s general counsel, Ron Bell, called on the government to clarify the “national security orders they issue to internet companies to obtain user data.” The company said that although the letter references allegations made against Yahoo, “it is intended to set a stronger precedent of transparency for our users and all citizens who could be affected by government requests for user data.”
“We appreciate the need for confidentiality in certain aspects of investigations involving public safety or national security,” the letter reads, “However, transparency is critical to ensure accountability and in this context must include disclosing how and under what set of circumstances the US government uses specific legal authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA], to obtain private information about individuals’ online activities or communications.”
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also filed a motion before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, calling for the court to release the Yahoo order. The group also requested that the court release over 20 other orders that were previously issued.
In the letter, Yahoo did not admit to having the email scanning system or offer any details about the specific order it received, saying only that “we find ourselves unable to respond in detail.” As a rule, National Security Letters and FISA court orders involve gag orders and cannot usually be made public.
Yahoo claims press reports about the situation have been misleading. “As we’ve said before, recent press reports have been misleading; the mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems. We therefore trust that the US government recognizes the importance of clarifying the record in this case.”
Last month, Yahoo revealed hackers had gained access to 500 million customer accounts in 2014. Yahoo is currently in the process of trying to close a deal to sell its core business to Verizon in a $4.8 billion deal. The New York Post recently reported that in the face of the recent revelations, Verizon is said to be demanding a $1 billion discount on the purchase.