Civil liberties group urges Verizon to
shore up Yahoo user protection
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[October 12, 2016]
By Joseph Menn
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An international
civil liberties group that has worked with web companies on human rights
and surveillance issues is asking Verizon Communications Inc to examine
a secret email scanning program run by its acquisition target Yahoo Inc
and improve on its user protection record.
Access Now, an international digital rights group, wrote to Verizon on
Tuesday about scanning conducted in 2015 at the behest of U.S.
intelligence authorities and first reported by Reuters last week.
Federal officials said the search was at the direction of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court and sought emails containing a specific
set of characters associated with a terror group backed by another
Access Now pressed the communications carrier to make sure that Yahoo
does more to protect user data, keeps security staff informed of
relevant policy decisions and keeps its commitments to surveillance
"We have an ongoing and constructive engagement with Access Now and will
review their recommendations and consider them carefully," Verizon said
in an emailed statement.
The letter, provided to Reuters in advance of its publication on
Wednesday on the group's website, points to mixed feelings among privacy
and security experts about the pending $4.8 billion acquisition. Yahoo
has in past years enjoyed a good reputation for protecting users from
government pressure, lobbying for restrictions on broad searches and
appealing warrantless inquiries from the secret U.S. intelligence court.
Like other major telecommunications carriers, Verizon has been seen by
privacy experts as more closely aligned with the interests of government
regulators, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
But Verizon has begun publishing a transparency report of the sort
pioneered by web companies, quantifying and explaining government
information requests, and it has also fought some data demands in court.
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Yahoo Mail logo is displayed on a smartphone's screen in front of a
code in this illustration taken in October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Dado
Verizon has also observed that Yahoo will give it a more global
customer base with different expectations.
“They seem to recognize that this is kind of an opportunity to build
on the privacy and security commitments that I think are essential
when we talk about expanding globally,” said Drew Mitnick, policy
counsel at Access Now.
Among those who have faulted the Yahoo search or the way it was
conducted are members of both houses of Congress, the United Nations
special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Ireland's Data
Protection Commissioner and the BEUC, an umbrella group of Europeans
Yahoo declined to comment about Access Now's request. The company's
rights policies are being addressed in the integration process,
according to a person familiar with the matter.
(Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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