Yahoo "wins" public disclosure on FISA files

Yahoo has won a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order that could force the public disclosure of the company’s attempts to distance itself from the NSA’s Prism program.

The Daily Dot found the court ruling, signed off by Reggie B. Walton, FISA, which reads: “The Government shall conduct a declassification review of this Court’s Memorandum Opinion of [Yahoo’s case] and the legal briefs submitted by the parties to this Court”.

It’s not a total victory. The court has ruled that the DoJ can estimate how long it will take to declassify the documents – and will still be able to redact what it considers classified information.

The document reads: The Government shall report to the Court by July 29, 2013, with estimated dates by which it will be able to complete its review of the two categories of documents identified above. Priority should be given to the review of this Court’s Memorandum Opinion”.

Yahoo has previously said it hopes releasing the documents will inform the public the nature of the conversations. In a statement, the company said it was “pleased” with the decision, and that once the documents are public, it believes “they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy”.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out Yahoo did begin a legal fight against FISA of its own volition, and that other companies may have acted in a similar way – the information is just not public yet. It awarded Yahoo a “gold star” for its efforts.

Since the Prism revelations, American companies have been rushing to stem the PR disaster by insisting they did not directly collaborate with the NSA and that they had been forced to act within the law.

For its part, Yahoo disclosed that it had received up to 13,000 requests from US authorities between 1 December 2012 and 31 May, 2013.

Critics argue that the companies themselves were culpable in the extent of their collaboration. Edward Snowden, who is on the run from the Obama administration for the leaks, claimed Microsoft provided direct access to and Skydrive to the NSA.

In a statement, Microsoft said: “Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive,, Skype or any Microsoft product.  

“Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely.  

“That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues”.  

Although these companies may have been bound by the law, people are questioning the enthusiasm with which they participated, if at all, and the extent they were forced to comply.