Yahoo was one of the major tech companies listed as participants of the NSA's PRISM when news of the spying program first leaked. Since then, Yahoo has been one of many companies struggling to distance themselves from the controversial government initiatives, claiming that user privacy comes first. And while Yahoo has denied participating in PRISM, the company can now actually show proof that it fought against providing the government with user data thanks to a recent ruling by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, aka the FISC or "the secret court".
The Daily Dot reports that on Monday Yahoo won a court order (pdf) to make public its strenuous objection against providing the government with user data. This took place in a classified 2008 case conducted in a court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Until now, Yahoo was not allowed to reveal that it was involved in the case. The company protested against the government's order, saying it violated its users' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
But the court called Yahoo's concerns "overblown" and that "incidentally collected communications of non-targeted United States persons do not violate the Fourth Amendment." However Yahoo didn't stop there: it appealed the decision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, a three-judge appellate court established to review decisions of the FISC. Yahoo lost again and remained silent and compliant until Yahoo's involvement was revealed by the New York Times in July.
Following the leaked news, Yahoo filed a new motion of disclosure. Now as the government and tech companies are knee deep in PRISM controversy, the government agrees that additional information about the case can be released, including Yahoo's involvement. Thus, the Department of Justice now must unseal classified documents related to the case and Yahoo's objections. The decision was made by the same court that dismissed Yahoo's concerns over user privacy.
"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," the ruling read. "After such review, the Court anticipates publishing that Memorandum Opinion in a form that redacts any properly classified information."
Naturally Yahoo is pleased with the new court order. "We’re very pleased with the decision by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordering the government to conduct a declassification review of the Court’s Memorandum of Opinion of April 25, 2008, as well as the legal briefs submitted," the company stated. "Once those documents are made public, we believe they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy."
Yahoo's win in the FISC was seen by a major victory by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and has thus given the search engine company a gold star.
"Yahoo went to bat for its users – not because it had to, and not because of a possible PR benefit – but because it was the right move for its users and the company," the EFF stated. "It’s precisely this type of fight – a secret fight for user privacy – that should serve as the gold standard for companies, and such a fight must be commended."
The EFF points out that it's possible more companies have challenged this secret surveillance, but the public currently isn't aware of it. Given that Yahoo was under a gag order since 2008, it's likely Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and other tech companies connected to PRISM are under a gag order as well.