“Big Brother Style Surveillance” – Yahoo allegedly handing over emails to U.S. Intelligence Officials

“Big Brother Style Surveillance” – Yahoo allegedly handing over emails to U.S. Intelligence Officials

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In the midst of ongoing cyber hacks that have seen information from millions of accounts from all sorts of services leaked online, Yahoo are alleged to have conceded to U.S. Intelligence Agency’s demands to search through customers’ email accounts for information.

This claim comes from the scandal that erupted last year, when Yahoo was found to be in breach of data protection rights when 500 million user accounts were illegally accessed. If found to be true, it is argued that Yahoo could be in serious breach of data protection rights, and may consequently face big penalties.

We’d like to think that the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office will not hold back in punishing organisations who fail to protect their customers’ personal details; even where information is allegedly being shared with spooks! As shown in the recent case of TalkTalk, companies falling short of their responsibilities can face huge fines in the hundreds of thousands of pounds mark.

TalkTalk’s alone was a monumental £400,000!

Reuters report that Yahoo allegedly implemented so-called ‘spyware’ software that allowed the company to scan through their customers’ emails. This was in response to an Intelligence Agency’s surveillance order in its aim to clamp down on suspected terrorism.

The suspected deal allegedly came when the company was sent an order from Intelligent Officials to the then CEO, Marissa Mayer, who allegedly then directed the engineering team to install the software. Although Yahoo and the Intelligent Officials could argue that the measures were proportionate – if this deal did actually occur – it could also be argued that they infringed on individual’s rights to privacy, which is something that’s protected in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 in the U.K., and various laws throughout the world.

It’s unclear as to the full context of what Yahoo were allegedly scanning for, and whether they have handed over information to Intelligence Officials at all. But what can be said with certainty is that many people would consider this to be a gross abuse of Yahoo customers’ personal data – if this “spying” did actually occur.

The surveillance order is something that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, and members of the Congress, are displeased with, to say the least.

American Congressman Ted Lieu said:

…this is big brother on steroids and it must be stopped“.

This places another proverbial nail in the coffin for customers who discovered that their email account had been hacked as well, only to then go on and find out that the content of their emails could have been scanned and spied on as well

Allegedly not the first time…

It’s not the first time Yahoo have supposedly handed over data to U.S intelligence authorities. Back in 2013, former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, infamously alleged that the U.S. had been involved in the NSA’s PRISM programme. Yahoo allegedly provided access to users’ email and the content of them to the NSA. If we look to Yahoo’s alleged track record, you could argue that Reuter’s claim this time round has some water to it. As the saying goes: there is no smoke without fire…

Of course, at this stage, Yahoo deny any wrongdoing, and we cannot know for sure!

The departure of Chief Information Security Officer, Alex Stamos, could be seen to indicate some truth in these claims.

We know that big tech companies are becoming subject to governments demands for information. Apple was also subject to a similar order earlier this year, but Apple took the issue to court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act having rejected a government order to create a tool to hack into the iPhone.

Maybe Yahoo should take a leaf out of Apple’s book in respecting privacy and lawful processing of their customers’ personal details; that is, if these allegations are true. To just hand over information without substantial grounds could be an infringement of their customers’ privacy and constitutional rights.

As we continue to speculate, Yahoo will have a lot of answering to do. To regain their customers’ trust, they must answer with transparency and honesty.

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