Yahoo Inc. cooperated with U.S. intelligence officials on a secret program to search all of its customers' incoming emails in real time, Reuters sources report.
According to two former employees and one involved party, Yahoo complied with a classified U.S. government directive to scan hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts under command of the NSA or FBI, Reuters reports. Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell did not involve the security team in the process, who discovered the program in May 2015 under the belief that it was the work of hackers, sources informed Reuters.
The unnamed sources told Reuters they were unaware what government officials asked of Yahoo in the demand, only that they wanted the ability to search for a set of characters in an email or attachment. Reuters was unable to discover what, if any, data Yahoo provided intelligence officials, or if other email providers besides Yahoo were involved.
The alleged surveillance program defies statements CEO Marissa Mayer made at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in 2013, saying "I'm proud to be part of an organization that from the very beginning in 2007, with the NSA and FISA and PRISM, has been skeptical and has scrutinized [government] requests.”
Yahoo received previous inquiry into its surveillance policies in Nov. 2015, when the defense team of drug smuggler Russell Knaggs petitioned the company for a deposition. After Yahoo provided authorities evidence of allegedly deleted email drafts that incriminated Knaggs of smuggling cocaine in boxes of fruit, Sukhdev Thumber, a solicitor representing Knaggs in the UK proceedings, told Motherboard there was “Some sort of bulk-data gathering, live monitoring, interception, continuous monitoring of the account which [allowed] this data to be produced.”
At the time, Yahoo dismissed the defense’s petition in court documents as a “baseless fishing expedition.” However, if Reuters sources' statements hold true, Yahoo’s live surveillance of user data could trace as far back 2009, when Knaggs was convicted due to drafted negotiations made using Yahoo Mail.
"Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States," the company told Reuters in response to questions about the directive.
Yahoo’s security practices have been under increased scrutiny since Sept. 2016, when the company released a statement that “state-sponsored” hackers broke into 500 million customer accounts two years prior. The company’s controversy now falls in the hands of Verizon, who is in the process of purchasing the company for $5 billion by the first quarter of 2017, according to Forbes.