In a bid to deal with recent secret data-gathering scandal surrounding it, popular email service provider Yahoo Inc has sent a request to the director of U.S. National Intelligence to declassify the nature of information it is gathering for the government.
The Internet company has come under intense scrutiny after news emerged earlier this month that it had cooperated with intelligence agencies in the U.S. to scan through the incoming mails of its users, who were not aware of this activity. The scale of surveillance is considered unprecedented.
Yahoo has now sent a letter to U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper requesting for permission to provide more information to the public on its information-gathering efforts. The company’s general counsel, Ron Bell, wants the U.S. intelligence services head to allow declassification of information gathered in an attempt to placate users over the widespread secret data gathering.
In the letter posted on its website on Wednesday, Yahoo said it was not unusual in a democracy for citizens to want to know how government gains access to their private data.
The Internet company has expressed its disapproval of a report by Reuters earlier in the month that it had built a custom program to secretly scan through incoming mails of its customers for certain information requested by American intelligence agencies. It said the report was false.
Yahoo is not able to describe the nature of data-gathering it does for the government since such information is usually classified or protected by court order. It therefore wants the National Intelligence to disclose if it indeed built a custom-made tool to scan through emails.
Bell said recent reports had “provoked broad speculation” which needed to be dealt with.
“That speculation results in part from lack of transparency and because US laws significantly constrain – and severely punish – companies’ ability to speak for themselves about national security related orders even in ways that do not compromise US government investigations,” the Yahoo general counsel said.
The email service provider is trying to maintain user confidence following recent scandals surrounding its operations, especially handling of users’ private data.
Yahoo announced last month that state-sponsored hackers may have stolen personal information of more than 500 million email accounts. It maintained on Tuesday that its customers have remained loyal to it despite the cyber attack, which took place in 2014.
In the letter to the U.S. director of National Intelligence, Yahoo made specific reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That law became more popular after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelation of surveillance activities by the government.
A National Intelligence spokesman failed to mention the particular methods that are used to collect people’s data when asked about those couple of weeks ago.
The large-scale theft of users’ private information in the 2014 hacking incident has threatened to derail the $4.8 billion Yahoo takeover deal Verizon agreed to few months back. It led to reports that the leading American carrier may request for a discount to complete the deal.
Verizon General Counsel Craig Silliman has said that Yahoo needed to prove the cyber attack did not have a material adverse effect on its business for the transaction to be completed.