Yahoo wins motion to declassify court documents in PRISM case

The Yahoo logo is displayed in front of the Yahoo headqarters on July 17, 2012 in Sunnyvale, California.
Justin Sullivan

Yahoo has won a motion from a secretive court that allows it to publicly reveal its efforts to avoid becoming part of PRISM, the National Security Agency's controversial data collection program.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled Monday that the Justice Department must unseal documents from a classified 2008 case that Yahoo has said will demonstrate the Internet company "objected strenuously" to providing the government with customer data.

"The Government shall conduct a declassification review of this Court's Memorandum Opinion of [Yahoo's case] and the legal briefs submitted by the parties to this Court," the ruling read. "After such review, the Court anticipates publishing that Memorandum Opinion in a form that redacts any properly classified information."

The ruling gives the Justice Department two weeks to provide estimates on how long it expects the review process to take, the Daily Dot reports.

A Yahoo spokesperson said the company was "very pleased" with the court's decision. "Once those documents are made public, we believe they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy," the representative said in a statement.

Because the 2008 case was conducted in a court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), details of the dispute were never made public beyond a heavily redacted court order and Yahoo was not even allowed to reveal that it was involved in the case. Monday's order was made by the same court that Yahoo originally petitioned five years ago to review the government's order over concerns it violated its users' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The court responded at the time that the company's concerns were "overblown" and that "incidentally collected communications of non-targeted United States persons do not violate the Fourth Amendment."

Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, and other Internet companies were left reeling after a pair of articles last month alleged that they provided the NSA with "direct access" to their servers through a program called PRISM. All of the companies have denied the allegations.

Legally barred from discussing their participation in the program, Google and Microsoft have petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift a gag order prohibiting them from disclosing more information about government requests they receive for customer data. To date, the companies have released only totals that combine legal requests made under FISA with others related to criminal investigations involving fraud, homicide, and kidnapping, making it impossible to determine how many FISA requests they have received.

This article originally appeared on CNET.

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    Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. Before joining CNET News in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers. E-mail Steven.