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