Yahoo Allegedly Built Custom Email Scanning Tools For US Government Spying Effort

Says it ain’t so, Yahoo. As if Yahoo doesn’t have enough trouble on its hands with the revelation that 500 million users accounts were compromised in a 2012 hack (that number could actually surpass 1 billion users according to recent reports), a new report suggests that Yahoo provided a helping hand to the U.S government’s spying efforts.

Yahoo is accused of building a custom scanner that snooped through the email accounts of millions of unsuspecting customers. The scanner was designed and built under the direction of two of the United States’ top intelligence gathering agencies: the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) according to Reuters. The program was designed to “siphon off messages containing the character string the spies sought and store them for remote retrieval, according to the sources.”

Marissa Mayer
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

The decision to walk in lockstep with the NSA and FBI fell squarely on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and as you might expect, the decision didn’t sit well with some of her other top executives. Rather than fight what Mayer saw would be a losing battle with the intelligence agencies, she decided to comply.

In fact, the dissent was so rampant inside the top ranks at Yahoo that the company’s Chief Information Security Officer, Alex Stamos, abandoned ship and took up arms at Facebook. Stamos reportedly attributed his departure to the utter lack of respect for user privacy and the discovery that the email scanner Yahoo devised had an exploit that could allow now just government officials to access customer data, but also hackers.

This line of reasoning also meshes with a Facebook post that Stamos made when announcing that he was leaving Yahoo:

The Internet has been an incredible force for connecting the world and giving individuals access to personal, educational and economic opportunities that are unprecedented in human history. These benefits are not without risk, and it is the responsibility of our industry to build the safest, most trustworthy products possible.

“It’s really staggering in its breadth and seems to go beyond the NSA programs we have known about for a while,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation staff Andrew Crocker in an interview with USA Today. “It’s hard to even anticipate what kind of arguments the government could make for the constitutionality or legality of this program, because the 4th Amendment implication of scanning all incoming emails for a single company are staggering.”

Although officials for the NSA and the FBI have declined to comment on the matter, Yahoo offered up the following statement: "Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”

Yahoo is currently in the midst of being acquired by telecommunications (and media) giant Verizon. Verizon announced in July that it would purchase Yahoo for $4.8 billion.