Yahoo secretly scanned millions of emails for US intelligence, report claims

Yahoo is said to have built custom software to help search all of its customers’ incoming emails

Thomas McMullan
5 Oct 2016

A report from Reuters claims Yahoo has been covertly scanning its users' incoming emails on behalf of the US government. 

Citing “people familiar with the matter”, including three former Yahoo employees, the report points to the tech firm building software to search all incoming emails for specific information, at the behest of either the FBI or the NSA. 

Reuters says the software used by Yahoo scanned for a string of characters in user emails, but admitted it was unable to determine what information was handed over or if other firms had received similar requests from the US government.

"Yahoo is a law-abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States," said the company in a statement given to both Reuters and the BBC. The tech firm has declined to comment further, as have the FBI or the NSA.

US laws including 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act means intelligence agencies can call on US phone and internet companies to provide customer information, for reasons including the prevention of terrorist attacks. Companies are able to challenge these demands behind closed doors.

According to two of the sources, the decision by Yahoo’s chief executive Marissa Mayer to not challenge the order annoyed a number of senior executives. They say this led to the departure of the firm’s chief information security officer Alex Stamos in June 2015. Stamos now holds the lead security position at Facebook.

Google and Microsoft have both denied receiving conducting similar scans of customer emails. Google claims to have never received a request, while Microsoft says it has never engaged with secret scanning, but declined to comment on whether it received a request to do so.

These allegations come less than a fortnight since Yahoo admitted that hackers had stolen data from around 500 million of its users. It also comes in the process of Yahoo’s takeover by Verizon Communications as a result of a $4.8 billion (£3.8 billion) deal.

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