Reports That Yahoo Aided US E-mail Surveillance Draw Concern Of Human Rights Expert

By Newsroom America Staff at 10 Oct 2016

(Newsroom America) -- A top expert of free expression said reports that Yahoo complied with United States intelligence demands by searching the e-mails of hundreds of millions of customers “raise serious human rights concerns.”

According to reports, Yahoo customized software to scan all incoming e-mail traffic for information responsive to criteria provided by the US National Security Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Government monitoring of digital communications, when conducted as described in recent reports, could undermine the privacy that individuals depend on in order to seek, receive and impart information online,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said, adding: “Based on the allegations reported, I have serious concerns that the alleged surveillance fails to meet the standards of necessity and proportionality for the protection of legitimate government interests.”

In a 2013 report to the UN Human Rights Council on communications surveillance, the previous special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, concluded that government “access to communications data held by domestic corporate actors should only be sought in circumstances where other available less invasive techniques have been exhausted.”

Mr. Kaye said that Yahoo’s apparent accession to government surveillance requests, without evident legal challenge, also raises concern about the involvement of technology companies in questionable government programs that impact freedom of expression, recalling his June 2016 report on the private sector and freedom of expression in the digital age.

“States place undeniable pressures on the private information and communication technology sector that often lead to serious restrictions on the freedom of expression,” the 2016 report stated.

Mr. Kaye reiterated that companies in all areas of the industry “are capable of establishing and exercising varying degrees of leverage in their relationships with States to resist or mitigate the harm caused by abusive application of the law.”

His report also highlighted that private entities should be evaluated on the steps they take both to promote and undermine freedom of expression, even in hostile environments unfriendly to human rights.

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