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Yahoo becomes the first company to disclose secretive national security letters

Yahoo has become the first company to disclose details of three national security letters (NSLs) to the public. The company is able to make this announcement as a result of recent changes to the USA Freedom Act.

An NSL is a type of subpoena used by the United States federal government to request information pertinent to matters of national security. This communication is typically accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement that prohibits the recipient from making the request known to the public.

However, the enactment of the USA Freedom Act introduced a stipulation that forces the FBI to periodically assess whether nondisclosure requirements associated with particular NSLs are still warranted. If there’s no reason to keep the request under wraps, the gag order is lifted and the recipient can make the information known if they see fit.

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Yahoo has opted to disclose three NSLs received in April 2013, August 2013, and June 2015 in an effort to reinforce its values relating to transparency and user privacy. The company has made correspondence from the FBI available online, but of course has redacted any information relating to specific user accounts.

The company complied to all three of the requests, to the full extent of its ability and the requirements of the law. Yahoo offered up the name, address, and length of service for each of the accounts listed in two of the NSLs, but was unable to supply any information in response to the third as the requested account was not found in its system.

“We believe there is value in making these documents available to the public to promote an informed discussion about the legal authorities available to law enforcement,” reads an accompanying blog post by Chris Madsen, Yahoo’s Head of Global Law Enforcement, Security, and Safety. “They also demonstrate the importance of hard-fought reforms to surveillance law achieved with passage of the USA Freedom Act.”