Yahoo, the only technology company to fight the NSA's order to provide sweeping access to customer accounts, released its first report detailing government requests for user information, covering January to June of this year. The United States issued the most requests, which isn't a surprise. But it's not the country that had the most success.
Yahoo has joined no program to volunteer user data to governments. Our legal department demands that government data requests be made through lawful means and for lawful purposes. We regularly push back against improper requests for user data, including fighting requests that are unclear, improper, overbroad or unlawful. In addition, we mounted a two-year legal challenge to the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and recently won a motion requiring the U.S. Government to consider further declassifying court documents from that case.
(Yahoo will mention that court battle in every one of these reports forever, justifiably.)
The company breaks down the data for each country in which it has a separate presence (excluding those countries where government made fewer than nine such requests). At right is a graph showing the results of the 12,444 requests made in the United States. Blue slices indicate the company gave some data to the United States (either content or "NCD" — metadata); the dark gray, the requests it refused. As you can see, Yahoo was compelled to provide a lot of information. (If you're curious / nervous, these requests didn't yet include data on Tumblr.)
And 12,444 is a lot of requests! It is 69 requests a day, nearly three an hour. Those requests sought information on over three times as many accounts — 40,322 in total. The United States requested data from more accounts than the rest of the world combined. And then nearly doubled.
Government requests, by country
Account requests, by country
Of course, the United States almost certainly has more Yahoo users than other countries, so it's difficult to compare evenly. We can, however, compare the success rate of each of those countries in making their requests. And the moral of the story is: It is better to live in Australia than Canada.
Percentage of requests in which full content was disclosed
Percentage of requests in which content or metadata was disclosed
Percentage of requests refused
Actually, the maps hide some of the more interesting data. The highest number of Yahoo refusals came following requests from the government of Singapore. The country second-most likely to get some sort of information back from Yahoo was Taiwan, right after our neighbors to the north. Notice that nearly a quarter of Mexico's requests are rejected, compared to two percent of the United States'.
Yahoo promises to continue to release similar data on a regular basis (as other companies do). Future reports are unlikely to include one other interesting bit of data: how many of these requests are the ones that Yahoo hoped to prevent by opposing the NSA's PRISM program. No company has won a court battle allowing it to do that.
Photo: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. (AP)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.