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Yahoo is giving the US government access to its tech in an unprecedented way, report says

The past month has given people good reason not to use Yahoo’s email service. But the devastating hack revealed a couple weeks ago might be just the tip of the iceberg.

Reuters reported late Tuesday that Yahoo complied with a government order to effectively build a backdoor into its Yahoo Mail service, giving authorities the ability to spy on users in real time. The company’s former Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos reportedly quit the company last year because of its decision to cooperate with the government.

In an emailed statement, a Yahoo rep called the Reuters piece “misleading.”

“We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure,” the company wrote. “The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems.”

If Reuters’ report is true, it sets Yahoo apart from virtually every company in Silicon Valley. In fact, building tools to let the government access user info is precisely what Apple and other tech companies sparred over with the feds earlier this year. Almost every major tech firm — Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and more — sided with Apple and vowed they’d fight any such governmental order.

Before responding to a VICE News query Wednesday, Yahoo previously told journalists that the embattled internet giant was a “law-abiding” company.

Internet privacy and freedom activists at places like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, think that if Yahoo really did comply and build government backdoors, the company was following an unconstitutional order.

“Based on [the Reuters] report, the order issued to Yahoo appears to be unprecedented and unconstitutional,” ACLU lawyer Patrick Toomey wrote in a blog post. “The government appears to have compelled Yahoo to conduct precisely the type of general, suspicionless search that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit.”

Toomey goes on: “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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