from the won't-someone-think-of-the-data-harvesters? dept
Yahoo discovered, as many tech companies did last year, that they had been opted-in to broad surveillance programs operated by the NSA and GCHQ. While these companies had always responded to official requests coming through official channels (the sort of thing detailed in their transparency reports), they were unaware that these agencies were also pulling data and communications right off the internet backbone and tech company servers.
This left most companies with no way to opt out of these collections. With the global reach of these two agencies, along with the others in the "Five Eyes" surveillance network, there are very few ways to avoid becoming another tool in the surveillance state toolchest.
Yahoo is exploring one option, which would limit its exposure to surveillance efforts. In the wake of revelations showing GCHQ collected tons of Yahoo webcam chats, it announced its plan to move its center of European operations to Ireland and out of Scotland Yard's reach.
Following the Guardian's disclosures about snooping on Yahoo webcams, the company said it was "committed to preserving our users trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services." It said GCHQ's activity was "completely unacceptable..we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law."Explaining the move to Dublin, the company said: "The principal change is that Yahoo EMEA, as the new provider of services to our European users, will replace Yahoo UK Ltd as the data controller responsible for handling your personal information. Yahoo EMEA will be responsible for complying with Irish privacy and data protection laws, which are based on the European data protection directive."Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), the UK government can force UK-based service providers to turn over data from their servers. Ireland, however, operates under European data privacy laws, not the UK's, which would theoretically help Yahoo hold onto its customers' data.
The potential loss of a large data source seems to have touched off a mini-panic within the intelligence community, which strongly suggested UK Home Secretary Theresa May take the internet company aside and discuss "security concerns."
[C]harles Farr, the head of the office for security and counter-terrorism (OSCT) within the Home Office, has been pressing May to talk to Yahoo because of anxiety in Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command about the effect the move to Dublin could have on their inquiries...Well, chances are RIPA won't apply, which would be the only reason these agencies are "concerned." They may have to go elsewhere to collect thousands of potentially naked webcam photos and videos. I'm sure the argument that terrorists will shift to Yahoo services as a result of the company's move is right around the corner. But the reality is that UK agencies will be forced to clear one additional minor hurdle before gaining access to the info it feels serves national security interests.
"There are concerns in the Home Office about how Ripa will apply to Yahoo once it has moved its headquarters to Dublin," said a Whitehall source. "The home secretary asked to see officials from Yahoo because in Dublin they don't have equivalent laws to Ripa. This could particularly affect investigations led by Scotland Yard and the national crime agency. They regard this as a very serious issue."
From Friday, investigators may have to seek information by using a more drawn out process of approaching Yahoo through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Ireland and the UK.And how difficult can a "mutual assistance" process actually be? As we've seen detailed repeatedly since the leaks began, the world's intelligence communities enjoy relationships that range from "symbiotic" to "incestuous." That agency heads would feel the need to send a top government figure out to persuade Yahoo to stay within the easy reach of surveillance tentacles shows that these agencies love having tons of data, but really hate having to make the slightest amount of effort.