US Surveillance of Yahoo Email Seeks to Weaken Concept of ‘Privacy’

Legal Experts: Policy 'Unrecognizable From a Fourth Amendment Perspective'

Officials familiar with the NSA surveillance program targeting Yahoo’s email service say that the program reflects an ongoing effort to dramatically weaken the concept of “privacy” online, resting heavily on nebulous definitions of “search” and “reasonable” to argue for such a broad program.

Back in October, it was revealed that Yahoo has been scanning every single email of every single account belonging to every single user, likely covering in excess of a billion separate accounts. As with virtually all major surveillance programs unveiled, the NSA denied it was happening, saying they’d never have permission to search through every email.

Officials familiar with the FISA order from 2015 which spawned the program, however, say that it was done by arguing that having computers conduct the preliminary searches didn’t count as “searching” the email, arguing that private companies do so many digital searches it was only reasonable to let them do so as well.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence went a step further, arguing that since private companies conduct computerized scans of emails looking for viruses, the government should be able to scan the emails without a warrant.

Legal experts warned the policy is “unrecognizable from a Fourth Amendment perspective,” though it appears with the surveillance programs that that is very much the point, with the goal not just to keep authorizing the program, but to keep the goal post moving on future schemes.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.