Yahoo Inc chief executive Marissa Mayer on Wednesday said she feared winding up in prison for treason if she refused to comply with US spy agencies’ demands for data.
Her comments came after being asked what she is doing to protect Yahoo users from a “tyrannical government” during an on-stage interview at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.
Mayer said Yahoo scrutinizes and fights US government data requests stamped with the authority of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but when the company losses battles it must do as directed or risk being branded a traitor.
Data requests authorized by the court come with an order barring anyone at the company receiving the request from disclosing anything about it, even its existence.
“If you don’t comply, it is treason,” Mayer said when asked why she could not just spill details of requests by US spy agencies for information about Yahoo users. “We can’t talk about it because it is classified. Releasing classified information is treason and you are incarcerated. In terms of protecting our users, it makes more sense to work within the system.”
Yahoo, Google Inc, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp are among the Internet firms pushing for permission to disclose more details to users about demands for data made in the name of fighting terrorism or other threats.
Technology titans have been eager to bolster the trust of users by making it clearer what has actually been demanded by and disclosed to US authorities.
“It is our government’s job to protect all of us, and also protect our freedoms, and protect the economy and protect companies,” Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said at the conference on Wednesday. “Frankly, I think the [US] government blew it.”
US intelligence officials declassified documents on Tuesday revealing the National Security Agency (NSA) violated privacy rules for three years when it sifted through the telephone records of Americans with no suspected links to terrorists.
The revelations raised fresh questions about the NSA’s ability to manage the massive amount of data it collects and whether the US government is able to safeguard the privacy of its citizens.
The government was forced to disclose the documents by a judge’s order after a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group promoting digital privacy rights and free speech.
The foundation called the release of the documents a “victory” for transparency, but intelligence officials said the papers illustrated how the spy service had made unintentional “mistakes” that were rectified under strict judicial oversight.