Lawmakers Request Congressional Briefing Regarding Yahoo Email Scanning

The tech company developed software to scan users' emails for intelligence agencies

Lawmakers Request Congressional Briefing Regarding Yahoo Email Scanning
October 14, 2016

A bipartisan group comprising 48 legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives has requested that the Obama administration hold a congressional briefing "as soon as possible" regarding the program designed by Yahoo at the request of intelligence agencies in 2015 to scan users' emails.

Reuters reports that the lawmakers made this request amid increasing scrutiny by privacy advocates and civil liberties groups over the legal authority behind and the technical nature of the program. The company designed and installed custom software to search messages sent to hundreds of millions of accounts in response to an order issued by the "secretive" Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The letter, which was organized by Representatives Justin Amash and Ted Lieu, states that, "[a]s legislators, it is our responsibility to have accurate information about the intelligence activities conducted by the federal government.

"Accordingly, we request information and a briefing as soon as possible for all members of Congress to resolve the issues raised by these reports."

Intelligence officials investigated the messages, looking for any containing a single piece of digital content related to a foreign state sponsoring terrorism. However, the nature of the content is still not clear.

The officials said that Yahoo made changes to systems already in place for stopping child pornography and filtering spam messages. However, three former employees of the company stated that the court-ordered search was performed by a module that was buried deep down close to the very core of Yahoo's email server operation system—way below the place where mail is sorted.

Sources said that the intelligence committees in both the Senate and the House received a copy of the order last year when it was issued; however, other members of Congress have expressed concerns regarding the potential scope of the scanning.

In addition, some legal experts believe that the court order may have been too wide in breadth and may actually violate the protections against unreasonable searches provided by the Fourth Amendment.

A poll of 1,989 people conducted last week by Morning Consult shows that half of registered voters in the U.S. believe that the program in question violated users' privacy. Twenty-five percent supported the program because it could stop criminal acts, and another fourth either did not know or did not have an opinion on the matter.