Company says court papers would show the public it fought strenuously against intelligence agencies accessing its data
Yahoo has called on Fisa, the secretive US surveillance court, to let it publish its legal argument against a case that gave the government "powerful leverage" in persuading tech companies to co-operate with a controversial data-gathering program.
In a court filing first reported by San Jose Mercury News the company argues the release would demonstrate that Yahoo "objected strenuously" in a key 2008 case after the National Security Agency (NSA) demanded Yahoo customers' information.
In June Yahoo, along with Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other companies, were identified in NSA documents as participating in a secret surveillance scheme known as Prism. The documents, obtained by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and first disclosed by the Guardian and Washington Post, claimed "direct access" to the servers of top tech firms. This particular characterisation of the program has been the source of strenuous dispute by the companies.
"Release of this court's decision and the parties' briefing is necessary to inform the growing public debate about how this court considers and examines the government's use of directives," Yahoo said in the filing to the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court, which rules on surveillance orders sought by the federal government. "Courts have long recognised the public has a right to access court records."
Yahoo lost a 2008 ruling at the Fisa court that has subsequently been seen as a key case in the government's arguments for pushing the tech firms' peers to comply with similar requests. Under federal law the ruling and Yahoo's arguments against it have been treated as classified information.
"The directives at issue in this debate are at the centre of a robust national debate represented by countless news articles, a statement from the director of national intelligence and congressional hearings," Yahoo said in the filing. Providing more information would "inform this debate and prevent misunderstandings", the company said.
"Disclosure of the directives and the briefs in this case would also allow Yahoo to demonstrate that it objected strenuously to the directives that are now the subject of debate, and objected at every stage of the proceedings, but that theses objections were overruled and its request for stay was denied," said Yahoo.
Yahoo's move comes as its rivals have also pushed for the government to provide more public clarity on their surveillance of people's online lives. Both Google and Microsoft are lobbying for permission to reveal more information about the numbers and types of requests for information they receive under national security programs.