NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (NSA vis Getty Images)
NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (NSA vis Getty Images)

The San Jose Mercury News reports that Yahoo is asking the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to let the public see its arguments in a 2008 case that the government used to persuade tech companies to cooperate with its massive data-gathering efforts.

Yahoo joins a growing list of parties demanding greater transparency over the government’s secret data-collection programs, including that known as Prism, revealed last month by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Google and Microsoft have both challenged gag orders that prevent them from disclosing what data they are forced to give the government under Prism.

And in a related development earlier this week, the Electronic Privacy Information Committee (EPIC)  filed a complaint with the Supreme Court questioning whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had the authority to order Verizon to turn over data from domestic phone records.

In its filing, Yahoo says its 2008 arguments would demonstrate that the company “objected strenuously” to government demands for customers’ information and that they would also help the public understand how surveillance programs are approved under federal law.

Under federal law, the court’s ruling and the arguments by Yahoo and other companies have been treated as classified information. Until last month, Yahoo was not even allowed to say it was a party in the case.

If Yahoo succeeds in unsealing some of the court files, legal experts say, it would be a historic development and an important step toward illuminating the arguments behind controversial Internet surveillance programs,

In EPIC’s amicus brief filed on Monday, the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation digital rights group, First Amendment Coalition and others lined up in support of Google and Microsoft with the court. In a copy of the brief obtained by The Washington Post, the group said that the firms have faced public criticism for disclosing data to the government and that it is “antithetical to the First Amendment to restrict the ability of a person to mount a defense against public accusations by responding with speech setting forth the truth about one’s own actions.”

EPIC’s brief argues that this kind of order does not fall within the power granted to the court by a section of the Patriot Act that allows data sought in an order to be “relevant” to an authorized investigation.

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