Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Yahoo Disputes Report on E-Mail Scanning for U.S. Government

  • Carefully worded statement calls Reuters article ‘misleading’
  • CEO Mayer is under increasing scrutiny ahead of Verizon deal

Yahoo! Inc. is disputing a report that said it built a software program to scan customers’ incoming e-mails for U.S. intelligence agencies, an effort to reassure consumers as the company comes under growing scrutiny ahead of a planned acquisition by Verizon Communications Inc.

“The article is misleading,” Yahoo said in a statement Wednesday. “We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”

According to the Reuters article Tuesday, Yahoo complied with U.S. government orders to scan hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or Federal Bureau of Investigation. Intelligence officials wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters, and that could mean a phrase in an e-mail or an attachment, according to the article, which cited anonymous sources.

Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer is facing increasing criticism about how she handles user data after Verizon agreed to pay $4.8 billion for Yahoo’s core assets in a deal expected to wrap up next year. The report came less than two weeks after the web portal admitted the personal information of at least 500 million users was stolen in an attack on its accounts in 2014.

The report Tuesday drew sharp rebukes from critics, who said government officials were asking for too much information -- and questioned whether Yahoo did enough to resist the requests.

"Based on this report, the order issued to Yahoo appears to be unprecedented and unconstitutional," Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Tuesday. “It is deeply disappointing that Yahoo declined to challenge this sweeping surveillance order, because customers are counting on technology companies to stand up to novel spying demands in court."

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