Yahoo Threatened With A Secret $250,000 Per Day Fine If It Didn't Comply With NSA PRISM Demands

from the how-do-you-explain-that-one? dept

Back in 2013, a week after the whole PRISM program was first revealed thanks to Ed Snowden’s leaks, it was then revealed that Yahoo had fought a secret legal battle against the program, based on a predecessor to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 called the Protect America Act of 2007. Yahoo took this fight to the FISA court and then lost. The company was ordered to begin handing over information, even though the company believed the requests were unconstitutional. Late yesterday, Yahoo noted that the FISA Court was finally declassifying many of the documents from that legal fight. James Clapper’s office quickly provided its spin on the 1,500 pages worth of documents in the fight. We’re digging through all the documents and will likely have more to say once we’ve had a chance to read through them more carefully.

However, we wanted to comment briefly on the story that’s already been making the rounds — which was called out by Yahoo in its announcement about this. And it’s that the government threatened Yahoo with a $250,000 per day fine for refusing to comply with the demands to turn over the information. That specific threat can be seen in the government’s motion for an order of civil contempt, after Yahoo sought to appeal the original decision against Yahoo. Yahoo asked for a stay of the original ruling while it appealed, but the government insisted that the court should not allow a stay and should order Yahoo to hand over the data or pay the $250,000 per day fine — which even the government refers to as a “coercive fine.”

$250,000 per day is a lot. Yes, that number can add up pretty quickly, but the truly stunning thing about all of this is that you have to remember all of this was done in total secrecy (it’s only come out now, about seven years after it happened). As a company making billions, perhaps it would be able to hide millions of dollars in fines, but somewhere along the line it would have had to have raised alarm bells from someone — whether an accountant for the company or even someone on the board, wondering why giant chunks of money were going to the government based on absolutely no explanation. And making it even more bizarre is that almost no one in the company itself would have even been allowed to know what was going on. While it never actually got to that point, imagine the financial mess such a secret fine from a secret court would cause.

FISA Court judge Reggie Walton denied Yahoo’s request for the stay, meaning Yahoo would likely have been found in contempt if it didn’t start handing over data. Thus, even though the company was still trying to appeal the decision (unsuccessfully), it was forced to start handing over the data anyway.

There are so many things wrong (and seemingly unconstitutional) in this entire setup — and I’m sure we’ll have more to say on it after we’ve gone through the documents. But what kind of constitutional democracy are we living in when this kind of thing is considered to be perfectly acceptable by those in power?

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Comments on “Yahoo Threatened With A Secret $250,000 Per Day Fine If It Didn't Comply With NSA PRISM Demands”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Minor typo

FISA Court judge Reggie Walton denied Yahoo’s request for the stay

Pretty sure that should read:

FISA Court judge Reggie Walton denied Yahoo’s appeal

Because the only even remotely sensible reason to deny the stay request, meaning they were stuck paying the insane fine while waiting for the appeal(which, I’m sure could stretch on for a long time), would be to coerce them into dropping the appeal and just handing over the information.

Denying the request for a stay on a fine that huge, is effectively no different than denying them the appeal flat out, or telling them they can appeal all they want, the verdict won’t change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When the hammer falls...

I would go further – I would force jury nullification on any case involving any of the following organisations:


I would ask for my fellow jurors to ignore any requests for a Guitly plea. Yes, there would be grave injustices committed under the auspices of this plan; however, none of those are so great that these terrorists should get their way. Ever.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: When the hammer falls...

uh huh…
you BREATHE a word of ‘jury nullification’ or ANYTHING remotely like that, and you will be struck from the pool in approximately 99% of the courtrooms in the country…

EVEN THOUGH, not only is so-called ‘jury nullification’ COMPLETELY ‘legal’ (whatever that means anymore), but ABSOLUTELY the right and duty of citizens to invoke to stop or ameliorate over-zealous persecutors…

IN SPITE of it not only being ‘legal’, BUT -i would aver- OUR HIGHEST DUTY to perform when ‘the law is an ass’, judges and DA’s will NOT allow that kind of -you know- populist crap to go on in “THEIR” courtrooms…
you may think or theorize that they are OUR courtrooms, but you would be wrong: they are the courts of the 1%, and all the officers of the court are functionaries of the 1%…

you, dear citizen, ain’t shit…

Anonymous Coward says:


There is another aspect to this not being mentioned.

How much of the “Tax Inversion Movement” is really not tax inversion but an escape from US regulations imposed by the US government(courts and bureaucracy)in secret tribunals and proceedings.

Did Burger King move to Canada to escape US secret courts, secret regulations, or secret taxes? The truth may be all three.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Inversion

Just the opposite; they’ve embraced the secrecy and intelligence gathering. Burger King is taking over Tim Horton’s, which protects Canada’s most important secrets using “Roll Up The Rim” technology.

Canadians were shocked at the thought of the NSA recording an entire country’s phone calls. THIS provokes pearl-clutching horror.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Then they’d have been really screwed, because then they’d not only be on the hook for paying the fine, but they’d either be facing down an investigation and likely charges for refusal to talk, or and investigation and charges if they did talk.

If they refuse to talk, charges for interfering with an ongoing investigation.

If they talk, charges for ‘contempt of court’, or something similar, and if the FISA ‘court’ was willing to hand out a $250K per day fine for non-compliance, you can bet whatever they came up with for ‘contempt of court’ would make that amount seem like loose change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yahoo should have leaked the metadata of the court orders

We all know now that metadata isn’t protected based on the many cases where the government has twisted logic and reason to be completely opposite of reality. Since that seems to be the legal ground they are standing on, use it against them and just release the metadata. (hint, it can all be classified as metadata if you include keywords that exclude little things like is, of, etc)

Anonymous Coward says:

i’m not interested in the least about the fine in itself, what i am absolutely disgusted at is the lengths the USA government, in the form of the NSA (and probably other security forces as well) went to/will go to to get what they want, ie, able to spy on Americans in just about all ways, turning the USA into a terrorist-classed nation! what the hell has really possessed these agency heads? i know, like everyone else world-wide that 9/11 was the most despicable act ever. however, it doesn’t give your own government the right to turn the country into something that is as bad, if not worse, than what they keep telling us they are protecting us from! no one wants terrorism or acts of terrorism to happen, but turning a country into a Police State, an Authoritarian State, a Surveillance State or some concoction of all and more, is definitely NOT the way to go!!

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Let's Imagin

Unless of course, siting National Security, the government placed a 10 year gag order on all the suddenly unemployed owners of Yahoo, who then would face 20 years in prison and a half million dollar fine, if they spoke out about how the company failed – which the government’s army of liars would deny vehemently and repeatedly on all news medias anyway.

And of course, the gag order would be “updated” every nine years to extend it to the legal limits of such orders, according to whatever legal limits they could create in the meantime – for national security reasons of course.

Fascists love to use the letter of the law against others, while avoiding the law altogether themselves, by placing themselves legally above the law.

And when all else fails, lie convincingly and often. 🙂

GEMont (profile) says:

That's a trick question right....

“But what kind of constitutional democracy are we living in when this kind of thing is considered to be perfectly acceptable by those in power?”

Oh! Oh!
I know.
I know the answer to that one!!

The kind of Constitutional Democracy where – through the use of a false flag operation posing as an attack by foreign terrorists, allowing the secret initiation of War Condition Laws – the Constitution has been secretly scrapped and the process of Democracy has been secretly replaced with an oligarchic cabal composed of national and multinational billionaire fascists!

But hush.
Don’t tell anyone, cuz, its a secret!

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