US Lawmakers Ask for Clarity Over Yahoo! Mass Email Surveillance

Nearly 50 US House representatives from 27 different states are asking for clarification from officials around reports that Yahoo! created a specialized program to scan email messages for certain trigger phrases.

A Reuters report Oct. 4 cited unnamed sources as confirming that the web giant was surveilling user inboxes on behalf of law enforcement—likely either the National Security Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the sources—via an adaptation to its spam filter.

Reuters wasn’t the only outlet that reported the potential bombshell. A New York Times report corroborated the information, adding that the Justice Department obtained the go-ahead from the formerly secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Yahoo! to create the custom system. The court order required it to search for messages containing a computer “signature” tied to the communications of a state-sponsored terrorist organization, the Times reported.

“There is significant confusion regarding the existence and nature of the program described by these reports and the legal questions implicated by the accuracy of specific details,” reads a letter addressed to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, from Congressmen Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.). It was signed by 46 additional representatives. They are asking for a congressional briefing ASAP.

“As legislators, it is our responsibility to have accurate information about the intelligence activities conducted by the federal government,” the letter reads.

Yahoo! itself denied the allegations 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.”

The New York Times sources said that the program is no longer in place.

The news comes narrowly on the heels of a massive breach of the company’s email database, the handling of which has drawn concern and controversy for the beleaguered company.

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