Yahoo wins motion to declassify court documents in PRISM case

Ruling will allow the Internet company to publicly reveal it challenged a U.S. government order to participate in the National Security Agency's controversial data collection program.

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Yahoo has won a motion from a secretive court that allows it to publicly reveal its efforts to avoid becoming part of PRISM, the National Security Agency's controversial data collection program.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled Monday that the Justice Department must unseal documents from a classified 2008 case that Yahoo has said will demonstrate the Internet company "objected strenuously" to providing the government with customer data.

"The Government shall conduct a declassification review of this Court's Memorandum Opinion of [Yahoo's case] and the legal briefs submitted by the parties to this Court," the ruling read. "After such review, the Court anticipates publishing that Memorandum Opinion in a form that redacts any properly classified information."

The ruling, first noted by the Daily Dot, gives the Justice Department two weeks to provide estimates on how long it expects the review process to take.

A Yahoo spokesperson said the company was "very pleased" with the court's decision. "Once those documents are made public, we believe they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy," the representative said in a statement.

Because the 2008 case was conducted in a court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), details of the dispute were never made public beyond a heavily redacted court order and Yahoo was not even allowed to reveal that it was involved in the case. Monday's order was made by the same court that Yahoo originally petitioned five years ago to review the government's order over concerns it violated its users' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The court responded at the time that the company's concerns were "overblown" and that "incidentally collected communications of non-targeted United States persons do not violate the Fourth Amendment."

Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, and other Internet companies were left reeling after a pair of articles last month alleged that they provided the NSA with "direct access" to their servers through a so-called PRISM program. Subsequent reporting by CNET revealed that this was not the case, and the Washington Post backtracked from its original story on PRISM.

Yahoo has previously denied the allegations regarding participation in the program, calling them "categorically false."

Legally barred from discussing their participation in the program, Google and Microsoft have petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift a gag order prohibiting them from disclosing more information about government requests they receive for customer data. To date, the companies have released only totals that combine legal requests made under FISA with others related to criminal investigations involving fraud, homicide, and kidnapping, making it impossible to determine how many FISA requests they have received.

(Via TNW)