U.S. government asked to snoop on 40,000 Yahoo accounts in first half of year

By SB Anderson

Yahoo on Friday reported that U.S. authorities asked for user data 12,444 times in the first six months of this year — covering 40,322 accounts. That is 69 requests a day, on average.

Most of those cases resulted in the government getting at least some data, including e-mails, photos and uploaded files.

Friday’s was Yahoo’s first-ever transparency report and it says it will continue every six months. Twitter and Microsoft released their reports earlier this summer; Google, which has been releasing reports longer than the other major players, has yet to for the first half of 2013. (Related: The Washington Post reported this morning that Google has stepped-up its efforts to encrypt that data that moves between its servers in an attempt to thwart spying).

“Democracy demands accountability, and accountability requires transparency,” Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a blog post on Friday. “We hope our report encourages governments around the world to more openly share information about the requests they make for users’ information.”

Yahoo Data ReleaseYahoo reported that in about 8% of cases, either no data was found or Yahoo rejected the request. So in just over 9 in 10 cases, at least some data was turned over.

About half the time — 55% — that was “non-content data,” which Yahoo describes as “basic subscriber information including the information captured at the time of registration such as an alternate e-mail address, name, location, and IP address, login details, billing information, and other transactional information (e.g., “to,” “from,” and “date” fields from email headers).”

In nearly 2 in 5 cases, other content was turned over. Yahoo’s description: “Data that our users create, communicate, and store on or through our services. This could include words in a communication (e.g., Mail or Messenger), photos on Flickr, files uploaded, Yahoo Address Book entries, Yahoo Calendar event details, thoughts recorded in Yahoo Notepad or comments or posts on Yahoo Answers or any other Yahoo property.”

Yahoo reported about the same number of government requests as Facebook, but affecting substantially more user accounts — 40,300 vs. up to 21,000. Twitter reported 902 requests affecting 1,319 accounts for the first half of the year.

Germany, Italy, Taiwan and France filled out the Top 5 in number of requests after the U.S. Outside the U.S., requests totaled 17,026, involving 22,453 accounts.

The government requests usually involve criminal investigations and came come by way of warrant or subpoena. Yahoo says it only complies “in response to valid, compulsory legal process from a government agency with proper jurisdiction and authority.”

National security authorities also make the requests. All companies are restricted about how much they can say — even specific numbers — about requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Yahoo and others have been pressing the government to allow them more freedom to divulge those details.

Sorted Yahoo Transparency Report First Half 2013

Earlier stories on transparency report data.