Would you voluntarily give permission to a company to monitor the emails of its users in order to stop possible terrorist activities on a network? This is something that we’ve seen again and again on various TV shows or movies, but this has become a real possibility in our world. And apparently, Yahoo was ordered to spy on their users in order to catch a “computer signature” that is associated with a state-sponsored terrorist group and the company manipulated spam filters in order to look into the emails.
A recent report that hit the streets already accused the tech company of spying on its users on behalf of the US government. Yahoo has of course denied the Reuters article, saying that the software named in the report does not exist. But on the heels of that is a new batch of rumors saying that they manipulated the spam filters in order to be able to keep an eye out for this alleged signature that the terrorist group was using. These new sources spoke to The New York Times this time and two of them are actually government officials.
Yahoo was reportedly compelled to do this due to a Foreign Intelligence Court Order that was served to them last year and it was actually the Department of Justice that was behind the order. They wanted to be able to look for these emails that were using the specified “highly unique” signature for the still unspecified group. But investigators did not know which email addresses were being used so they wanted Yahoo to scan their system looking for these “identifiers”. The sources said that the scanning wasn’t happening anymore since then.
We doubt if Yahoo or the Department of Justice would ever admit to the operation. Besides, they were ordered not to disclose this publicly at the time the order was implemented. Still, privacy violations like this will probably not go too well with users and consumer rights groups, even though the court was convinced of the probable cause, enough to grant the order.