According to Reuters, the NSA requested that Yahoo scan their customers emails for a specific phrase or phrases, and hand whatever information gleaned to government officials.
Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.
This information comes from former employees, who told Reuters that Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer agreed to the classified edict, which in turn caused some of the Yahoo senior officials to walk away from the company, including then Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who walked away in 2015, and now works for Facebook.
Apparently, this was done without notifying or asking Yahoo’s security team, and instead, senior officials ordered engineers to write and deploy the program, over the security team’s head.
The sources said the program was discovered by Yahoo’s security team in May 2015, within weeks of its installation. The security team initially thought hackers had broken in.
When Stamos found out that Mayer had authorized the program, he resigned as chief information security officer and told his subordinates that he had been left out of a decision that hurt users’ security, the sources said. Due to a programming flaw, he told them hackers could have accessed the stored emails.
When asked about the incident, Yahoo replied only with “Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”
According to Reuters, it’s likely Yahoo wasn’t the only company that received this edict.
Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other Internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target. The NSA usually makes requests for domestic surveillance through the FBI, so it is hard to know which agency is seeking the information.
According to Microsoft, while it did not clarify whether or not it had received a similar edict, it has said “We have never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo.”
This action by Marissa Mayer is actually a complete turnaround from here position in 2013, when the NSA was found to have been collecting data, and she and other CEOs from various online companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, et al, sent out a letter open letter together to denounce the government’s spying habits.
“[R]ecent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world,” Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Meyer said.
It seems now, that Mayer and Yahoo are fully okay with the NSA snooping now.
To use a popular internet phrase, “delete your account.”