US Reps Requesting Further Intel Around Yahoo Surveillance Story

Yahoo letter government

U.S. representatives are asking Yahoo for clarity around a surveillance program mentioned in reports earlier this month.

Nearly 50 representatives from 27 different states are still looking to clear the air around this month’s Yahoo surveillance story.

In a letter on Friday addressed to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, government officials asked for clarity around the surveillance program mentioned in a jarring Reuters article earlier this month.

“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,” the letter (.PDF) reads.

Congressmen Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Justin Amash (R-MI) wrote the letter; it was signed by 46 additional representatives.

The representatives are asking Lynch and Clapper to provide Congress with any information they have on the reports in a congressional briefing as soon as possible.

“As legislators, it is our responsibility to have accurate information about the intelligence activities conducted by the federal government,” Lieu and Amash write.

The Reuters report, published Oct. 4, said that Yahoo created a specialized program to scan arriving email messages across users’ inboxes for “a set of characters,” like “a phrase in an email or an attachment.” The custom program was created at the behest of either the National Security Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the news outlet.

A subsequent New York Times report citing anonymous government officials corroborated Reuters’ report the following day. That article claimed the Justice Department was able to procure an order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge in order to make the system available to the FBI.

Yahoo contested the reports, calling them misleading.

“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,” Yahoo said in a statement.

Friday’s letter comes a few weeks after congressional leaders demanded answers from Yahoo around another incident, the massive data breach it announced in September that lead to 500 million accounts being compromised.

In a letter addressed to Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other U.S. Senators asked a series of questions around the breach, which he called ‘unacceptable.’

“This breach is the latest in a series of data breaches that have impacted the privacy of millions of American consumers in recent years, but it is by far the largest. Consumers put their trust in companies when they share personal and sensitive information with them, and they expect all possible steps be taken to protect that information,” the letter read.

In somewhat related news, on Friday, Yahoo brought back email forwarding for its mail service. The functionality, which enables users to forward emails from their Yahoo account to another, external email account, was disabled shortly after the Reuters’ article was published. The company said at the time it was working to make the feature better but many users questioned Yahoo’s timing, accusing the company of making it more difficult for users to leave the service.

In a blog post on Friday, Yahoo’s VP of Product Management Michael Albers said the company temporarily disabled the feature in order to “add multiple account support, and improve performance” and has since re-enabled it.

It’s still unclear how the last two months of news will affect the ongoing $4.8 billion acquisition of the company by Verizon. Yahoo is slated to report its third quarter earnings on Tuesday but the company informed analysts it will not host a conference call to discuss the numbers. Late last week, a lawyer with Verizon said there’s a chance the deal might not go through.

“I think we have a reasonable basis to believe right now that the impact is material, and we’re looking to Yahoo to demonstrate to us the full impact. If they believe that it’s not then they’ll need to show us that,” Craig Sillman, General Counsel for the company told reporters Thursday.

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