US Legislators Demand Briefing On Yahoo Email Scan

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Lawmakers want to judge the legality of intelligence services’ access to Yahoo Mail

A group of 48 US lawmakers has demanded a briefing “as soon as possible” on Yahoo’s reported programme of scanning its users’ emails on behalf of intelligence authorities.

A report earlier this month, citing unnamed former Yahoo staff, disclosed the company had complied with a court order asking it to scan emails for a particular piece of content.

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First-hand details

The intelligence committees of the US Senate and House of Representatives were given a copy of the order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when it was issued last year, according to Reuters, which reported the programme.

But other members of Congress said needed first-hand information in order to better understand the issues raised by Yahoo’s actions.

“There is significant confusion regarding the existence and nature of the programme described by these reports and the legal questions implicated by the accuracy of specific details,” they wrote in an open letter addressed to attorney general Loretta Lynch and director of national intelligence James Clapper.

“As 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.”

‘Unconstitutional’ scan

One of the letter’s signatories, Representative Ted Lieu of Los Angeles County, has said previously the Yahoo request appears to break a provision in the US constitution that bars unreasonable searches.

The scale of the US government’s data collection programmes have raised controversy both inside the country and abroad since they were disclosed beginning in 2013.

While limited reforms have been carried out, the issue of intelligence or law-enforcement access to individuals’ personal data, whether carried over networks or held on devices, remains an increasingly divisive issue, in part due to the explosive growth of digital communications and mobile devices.

In a separate incident, California court documents revealed that law enforcement officials had requested a warrant allowing them to use the fingerprints of anyone found at a particular property to unlock any mobile devices that may have been found.

The request, dating from May of this year, appears to be a way of circumventing other procedures to gain access to devices following their seizure.

Fingerprint access

The memo is in support of a warrant demanding “authorisation to depress the fingerprints and thumbprints of every person who is located at the subject premises during the execution of the search and who is reasonably believed by law enforcement to be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device that is located at the subject premises and falls within the scope of the warrant”.

The US Department of Justice has declined to comment, but individuals at the property involved confirmed the warrant had been served, according to Forbes, which disclosed the documents.

In their request law enforcement officials argued demanding access to fingerprints for unlocking devices is constitutional.

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it contitutes an unreasonable search because of its overly broad scope.

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