On the heels of a heated legal battle between the U.S. government and the search engine Yahoo, court documents released Friday show that Yahoo was under extreme pressure by the Bush administration to comply with its highly controversial PRISM program, made infamous by noted NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. According to the documents, the government was threatening Yahoo with exorbitant fees that were designed to bankrupt the company within a short timeframe, starting at $250,000 per day and doubling each week Yahoo remained non-compliant.
Attorneys Jacob Sommer and Marc Zwillinger were outspoken about the case in a blog post on Monday, stating that the fines imposed by the government would have been just the beginning. Yahoo was looking down the barrel of the Bush administration’s legal war machine, facing charges of contempt and legal prosecution should the search engine continue to hold out against the government’s demands for private data.
Simple math indicates that Yahoo was facing fines of over $25 million dollars for the first month of noncompliance, and fines of over $400 million in the second month if the court went along with the government’s proposal.
To put these fees into perspective, Yahoo’s 2008 average revenue was $7.2 billion. If Yahoo had declined to join PRISM for only a few weeks, the fines would have accumulated to more than the company’s net worth. Five months of waiting would have racked up enough to equal the entire U.S. debt, somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.5 trillion.
All of this was happening at the same time that other major tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook were likewise being aggressively bullied into joining the program, the details of which were released to the public by Edward Snowden in 2013. The program was designed to gather intelligence on potential threats to national security by mining data and stored internet communications that match court-approved search terms. While the government insisted that the program was solely used for the protection of U.S. citizens, Snowden warned that the depth of this and other programs exceeded not only what American citizens thought, but also that what the programs were actually being used for was “illegal” and “highly unethical”. Snowden is currently taking temporary asylum in Russia as the United States is seeking to charge him with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person. Some officials have even said his actions have helped terrorist organizations, like ISIS.
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