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Tech giants distance themselves from Yahoo-style surveillance allegations

how yahoo is mining for gold in your junk mail campus
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With Yahoo still reeling from the exposé this week that claimed it cooperated extensively with the National Security Agency (NSA), a number of its supporters have publicly come out to deny any similar activity.

In statements, both Microsoft and Google denied collaborating with the NSA to scan users’ emails, the latter taking a much more firm stance. A spokesperson for Google said, “We’ve never received such a request, but if we did, our response would be simple: ‘No way.’”

Microsoft, meanwhile, wrote via a spokesperson: “We have never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic like what has been reported today about Yahoo.”

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Yahoo built a bespoke system to monitor users’ email in real time — rather than stored messages — at the behest of the NSA. The incident, which is believed to be the first of its kind, allegedly led to the resignation of security chief Alex Stamos, who now heads up security at Facebook. Reuters cited sources working within Yahoo but could not determine what kind of data was handed over to the intelligence agency.

Edward Snowden tweeted that companies need to deny any such actions quickly or risk being associated with surveillance, and that’s what’s happened. Other companies have been quick off the mark with statements but not much detail.

Facebook told Vocativ that it too has never received a request like this and if it did, it would fight it. Twitter said something very similar in its own statement.

As for Apple, it referred to an old Tim Cook statement where the CEO said the company “never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor” but the company did not answer questions relating to this specific incident.

While all these companies’ statements are intended to dispel consumer fears over mass surveillance, it raises another key issue. The Department of Justice can issue gag orders along with data requests that prevent companies from disclosing any information on their correspondence with the government. Interestingly, Microsoft, with the support of several other companies, is involved in an ongoing legal action to reverse this law.

Yahoo continues to be the target of much scrutiny this week after the Reuters report first hit the wire. ACLU called Yahoo’s actions “unprecedented and unconstitutional” while Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote that the NSA may have violated its own rules, or if these rules ever changed, it failed to notify the public.

So far, Yahoo’s only response has been that it is a “law-abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.” It has not specifically addressed the accusations, which come after last month’s controversy where the company disclosed a massive hack attack on its network that compromised more than 500 million accounts.

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Jonathan Keane
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jonathan is a freelance technology journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. He's previously written for publications and sites…
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