Yahoo Becomes Next Firm to Reveal Law-Enforcement Requests

Yahoo has disclosed the total number of law-enforcement requests it received between December 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013.

In doing so, Yahoo joins a host of tech companies—including Apple and Facebook—that have revealed the number of user-data requests they’ve received from law enforcement over the past several months. Those revelations are a response to a series of controversial articles by The Guardian and The Washington Post that detail an NSA project known as PRISM, which allegedly siphons information from the databases of nine major technology companies: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple.

In emails to Slashdot and other media outlets, as well as postings on their respective corporate blogs, many of these companies have denied involvement with PRISM. But in a bid to assure any anxious users that their data isn’t being randomly vacuumed up by a massive national-security apparatus, these companies are taking the additional step of revealing how many law enforcement requests they actually receive.

In Yahoo’s case, that number stands at between 12,000 and 13,000 requests in that six-month period, mostly related to criminal investigations. Yahoo declined to break out how many of those requests were related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which regulates electronic surveillance.

“Like all companies, Yahoo! cannot lawfully break out FISA request numbers at this time because those numbers are classified,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and general counsel Ron Bell wrote in a June 17 statement posted on Yahoo’s official Tumblr. “However, we strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue.”

Yahoo will issue its first “global law enforcement transparency report” later this summer, the executives added. That report will cover law-enforcement requests from the first half of 2013 in more detail. “As always,” they concluded, “we will continually evaluate whether further actions can be taken to protect the privacy of our users and our ability to defend it.”

How does Yahoo compare to other tech firms? Between December 2012 and May 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests for customer data from U.S. law enforcement; those requests specified between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices. In the second half of 2012, Google received some 21,389 requests about 33,634 users (in the search-engine giant’s case, the United States topped the list with 8,438 user-data requests, followed by India, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). Microsoft and Skype (the latter a Microsoft subsidiary) received a total of 75,378 requests in 2012, with 11,073 coming from the United States—chopping that in half (in order to even things up with the other companies reporting six months’ worth of data) brings U.S. requests to roughly 5,536 for the half-year.

Of course, keeping user data safe is also a matter of the actual user relying on good encryption.

 

Image: Alexander Mak/Shutterstock.com

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