Yahoo Secretly Scanned Millions of Customer Emails for U.S. Authorities [Updated]

Yahoo secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers' incoming emails for specific information at the behest of U.S. intelligence authorities, according to people familiar with the matter.

Reuters spoke to three former Yahoo employees who revealed the existence of the custom code, apparently written in compliance with a classified U.S. government demand. The program scanned hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts for the NSA or FBI, said the former employees and a fourth person with knowledge of the events.

yahoo
Surveillance experts say the revelation represents the first case to surface of a U.S. internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency's request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

According to two former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer's decision to obey the directive did not sit well with some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos. Stamos now holds the top security job at Facebook, which incidentally just completed the rollout of end-to-end encrypted privacy features for its hugely popular Messenger app.

"Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States," the company told Reuters in response to the claims, but stopped short of denying them. It declined any further comment. The NSA referred questions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which also declined to comment.

According to Andrew Crocker, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it's likely the request invoked Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the bulk collection of communications for the purpose of targeting a foreign individual. But rather than having a non-U.S. target, every single person with a Yahoo email inbox was placed under surveillance, regardless of citizenship.

Speaking to The Intercept, Crocker said the Yahoo program seems "in some ways more problematic and broader" than previously revealed NSA bulk surveillance programs like PRISM or Upstream collection efforts. "It's hard to think of an interpretation that doesn't mean Yahoo isn't being asked to scan all domestic communications without a warrant or probable cause. The Fourth Amendment implications of that are pretty staggering."

It's unclear what data Yahoo may have handed over to the authorities, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with the same kind of request.

Contacted by The Intercept, an Apple spokesperson said: "We have never received a request of this type, and if we were to receive one, we would oppose it in court." The spokesperson also pointed to a section from a recent public letter by CEO Tim Cook, which he said was still accurate:

Finally, I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.

Facebook, Google, and Microsoft separately said on Tuesday that they had not conducted such email searches. "We've never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: 'No way'", a spokesman for Google said in a statement. Twitter also said it has never received such a request.

In related news last month, Yahoo revealed that "state-sponsored" hackers had gained access to 500 million customer accounts in 2014. The revelations come at a sensitive time for the company as it tries to complete a deal to sell its core business to Verizon for $4.8 billion.

Update: Yahoo has disputed parts of the Reuters report, saying that "the article is misleading" and that the email scanning outlined in the report "does not exist on our systems."

“The article is misleading,” Yahoo said in a statement. “We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

d0minick Avatar
54 months ago
that was my porn e-mail account. what a mistake! LOL
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Jsameds Avatar
54 months ago
To have a modern online life, most people have no choice but to trust companies with their data, such as emails in this case.

Now - I don't really trust any of them 100%, but since I have to choose I have chosen Apple because I distrust Apple the least, if that makes sense.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macfacts Avatar
54 months ago

Wowwwwww. I knew I hated yahoo. Now I really know why. Pansy ass dipsticks!!

Save some of the hate for the FBI and NSA
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Gooberton Avatar
54 months ago
Wowwwwww. I knew I hated yahoo. Now I really know why. Pansy ass dipsticks!!
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cerote Avatar
54 months ago
Think if they were scanning every email they would have better spam control.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mac Fly (film) Avatar
54 months ago
Surprised Yahoo still exists.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

windows 10

Developer Successfully Virtualizes Windows for Arm on M1 Mac

Friday November 27, 2020 7:16 am PST by
Developer Alexander Graf has successfully virtualized the Arm version of Windows on an M1 Mac, proving that the M1 chip is capable of running Microsoft's operating system (via The 8-Bit). Currently, Macs with the M1 chip do not support Windows and there is no Boot Camp feature as there is on Intel Macs, but support for Windows is a feature that many users would like to see. Using the...
iPhone black friday 20 sale feature

Apple Black Friday 2020: Best iPhone Deals

Friday November 27, 2020 12:56 pm PST by
Black Friday is halfway done, but there are still a few deals to shop for on iPhones at carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile/Sprint. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. AT&T Starting with AT&T, you'll find up to $700 off any iPhone 12 when...
AirPods Pro black friday 20 sale feature 2

Black Friday 2020: AirPods Pro Reach Lowest Price Ever [Updated]

Wednesday November 25, 2020 3:22 pm PST by
Black Friday has kicked off this week, and one of the first major sales for the AirPods Pro is available right now on Walmart. You can find this deal below, along with a few other solid discounts on the regular AirPods. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site...
Apple Watc black friday 20 sale feature

Apple Black Friday 2020: Best Apple Watch Deals [Updated]

Wednesday November 25, 2020 4:01 pm PST by
Black Friday sales have begun on a variety of products, including the Apple Watch. There are quite a few deals across the Apple Watch lineup this year, including one of the lowest price we've ever seen the Apple Watch Series 3. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the...
iphone trade in store

UK Environmental Committee Says Apple Contributing to 'Throwaway Culture' of 'Short-Lived Products'

Thursday November 26, 2020 7:07 am PST by
Technology companies like Apple are contributing to e-waste by making their products difficult to repair, and charging expensive repair fees, according to a lengthy report published today by the UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee. "We were told that Apple glues and solders parts together on their laptops, which makes repairing them very difficult," the Committee wrote in a summary ...
MacBooks black friday

Apple Black Friday 2020: Best Mac and MacBook Deals

Thursday November 26, 2020 8:29 pm PST by
For Black Friday 2020, many retailers have solid deals on a variety of Macs. Apple's new M1 Macs are ones everyone wants right now, but because they're so new, deals on them are fairly sparse, although we are seeing some modest discounts. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps...
Top Stories 38 Feature

Top Stories: Black Friday Deals, Redesigned MacBooks, Hands-On With Apple's M1 Macs

Saturday November 28, 2020 6:00 am PST by
With Apple's holiday hardware lineup seemingly all set, attention this week turned to the shopping end of things with Apple and other retailers rolling out their Black Friday deals. That wasn't the only news this week, however, as we've continued to learn more about Apple's new M1-based Macs and we've even heard some fresh rumors about redesigned Mac notebooks coming next year, so read on...
General black friday 20 sale feature 2

Apple Black Friday 2020: Our Top Picks

Friday November 27, 2020 6:16 am PST by
Black Friday shopping has officially kicked off across the United States, and we've been collecting the best deals for Apple's iPads, Macs, AirPods, the HomePod, Apple Watch, and more in separate articles. In order to further streamline your Black Friday shopping this year, we've put together this quick list of our top picks of the overall best Apple-related bargains happening today. Note:...
mac mini macbook pro macbook air

Apple M1 Hands-On Comparison: MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro vs. Mac Mini

Monday November 23, 2020 3:40 pm PST by
Apple's M1 Macs are out in the wild now, but ahead of the holidays, you might still be trying to figure out which one to pick up, either for yourself or as a gift for someone else. We've got all three of the new Macs available, so we thought we'd give MacRumors readers a hands-on overview of each machine in our latest YouTube video. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. ...
General black friday 20 sale feature

Thanksgiving Day Deals Still Available on AirPods, M1 Macs, Apple Watch Series 6, iPads

Thursday November 26, 2020 10:21 am PST by
Black Friday deals seem to start earlier and earlier every year, so there were already a wide variety of discounts available for Apple products on Thanksgiving Day. Many of the deals remain available even after Thanksgiving, but act fast, as inventory quickly fluctuates. Thanksgiving Day Deals on Apple Products — Still Available:AirPods with a wireless charging case remain available for...