Yahoo Transparency Report Reveals More Than 12K U.S. Government Data Requests

Following the lead of Google, Twitter and other major Internet companies, Yahoo has issued its first transparency report, revealing that it received more than 12,000 requests for user data from the U.S. government in the first half of 2013. The company disclosed user content in nearly a third of those requests.

The data released by Yahoo is similar to the type and scope of information that other companies have published in recent reports. Facebook, Google and Twitter all have released transparency reports in the last few months, detailing the volume of government requests for user data that they receive. Google has been publishing these reports for a couple of years, and other companies have been following suit.

This is the first such report that Yahoo has published, and it comes at a time when there is massive scrutiny of the Internet companies and their relationships with the U.S. government, thanks to the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In the report, Yahoo directly addressed published reports that it and other companies had voluntarily given the NSA and federal law enforcement access to its systems to capture user data.

“Yahoo has joined no program to volunteer user data to governments. Our legal department demands that government data requests be made through lawful means and for lawful purposes. We regularly push back against improper requests for user data, including fighting requests that are unclear, improper, overbroad or unlawful. In addition, we mounted a two-year legal challenge to the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and recently won a motion requiring the U.S. Government to consider further declassifying court documents from that case,” the report says.

 In Yahoo’s report, published Friday, the company said that it had received 12,444 requests for user data from the U.S. government. Of those, Yahoo turned over user content in 4,604 cases. Under Yahoo’s definition, user content includes information such as “words in a communication (e.g., Mail or Messenger), photos on Flickr, files uploaded, Yahoo Address Book entries, Yahoo Calendar event details, thoughts recorded in Yahoo Notepad or comments or posts on Yahoo Answers or any other Yahoo property.”

In another 6,798 cases, Yahoo responded to U.S. government requests with what it calls non-content data. That includes data such as “basic subscriber information including the information captured at the time of registration such as an alternate e-mail address, name, location, and IP address, login details, billing information, and other transactional information (e.g., “to,” “from,” and “date” fields from email headers).”

The U.S. government sent by far the most number of requests to Yahoo during the period covered in the report. The next highest number of requests came from Germany, which made 4,295 requests.

Yahoo officials said that the majority of the requests from governments are related to criminal investigations rather than national security investigations. Unlike some of the transparency reports released by other companies, Yahoo’s data doesn’t include separate information on the number of national security letters that the company received. The NSLs are included in the aggregate data on government requests.

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