Yahoo Inc. last year secretly built a software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by US intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company complied with a classified US government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Reuters reports, citing three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.
This represents the first known case of a US internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time, the news agency said, citing several surveillance experts.
It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters.
That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.
Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.
According to two of the former employees, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of chief information security officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc.
“Yahoo is a law-abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” the company said in a brief statement in response to Reuters questions about the demand.
Yahoo, Stamos and the NSA declined to comment.
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