The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ruled that papers and documents from a 2008 court case between Yahoo and the FISA court will be declassified and made public.
The 2008 case centers on the “the details of a controversial ruling that forced the Internet company to hand over private data.” The Monday ruling is a result of a request that Yahoo filed with the court on June 14 to show that it “vehemently . . . rejected” initial requests and attempts by the NSA to datamine customer information.
There are a lot of speculations revolving around this ruling. Yahoo officials believe that the documents could possibly outline specific actions taken by the government to build its justification for implementing PRISM, the mass surveillance and data collection spy program orchestrated by the National Security Agency. Yahoo released a statement concerning the Monday ruling saying that the documents will “contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy.”
Civil liberties expert at Stanford law school, Jennifer Granick, praised Yahoo and the ruling saying that “If Yahoo can show that it fought strenuously . . . that may make people feel more comfortable about Yahoo having their data.”
The court’s ruling will unseal documents containing a court opinion from six years ago. Up until recently, Yahoo wasn’t even at liberty to disclose that they were under PRISM’s scope, as they were essentially strong-armed into cooperating. When the court ruled in favor of PRISM years ago, any company that resisted would have broken the law.
Chris Soghoian with the American Civil Liberties Union noted that the government seizing of data strictly contradicts the corporate philosophies of tech companies.
“When it comes to government privacy, they generally tend to put their users first,” said Soghoian. “”There’s this libertarian, pro-civil liberties vein that runs through the tech companies.”
Yahoo and other civil liberties consider this a huge victory and a good step forward in the direction of government transparency. However, the government has been afforded the ability to review the documents and redact anything it wants to remain classified. But considering the courts doesn’t make this type of ruling often, it’s still a huge deal.
Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Mark Rumold said that “the unsealing of such secret rulings is not unprecedented, but it is rare.” He noted that last occurrence as being a case concerning the Patriot Act in 2002.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.