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Amid Increasing Privacy Concerns, EU Questions U.S. Over Yahoo Email Scanning

Amid Increasing Privacy Concerns, EU Questions U.S. Over Yahoo Email Scanning
Following concerns that may have violated a new data transfer pact, a secret court order Yahoo used to scan thousands of customer emails for possible terrorism links is now under the scanner of the European Commission as the commission has asked the United States about the court order.
Due to the EU concerns about data privacy and mass U.S. surveillance, the United States agreed to limit the collection of and access to Europeans' data stored on U.S. servers under the Privacy Shield agreement that came into force in August.
Thousands of firms were left scrambling for legal ways to provide data on transactions ranging from credit cards to travel and e-commerce that underpin billions of dollars of transatlantic trade as the previous deal was thrown out by the EU's top court in October 2015.
At the behest of a secret court order, Yahoo had scanned all incoming customer emails in 2015 for a digital signature linked to a foreign state sponsor of terrorism, reported the media last month. And this resulted in the rise of fresh questions related to the scope of spying by the U.S.
"The Commission services have contacted the U.S. authorities to ask for a number of clarifications," Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said.
Following the disclosures of intrusive U.S. surveillance programs in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Commission concerns about the privacy of Europeans' data stored on U.S. servers were assuaged as the United States had pledged not to engage in mass, indiscriminate espionage.
Even if the program ran before the Privacy Shield was in place, the Commission had now asked the United States to explain how the Yahoo order fitted with its commitments, two people familiar with the matter said.
One person familiar with the matter said that the Commission was seeking clarifications on the nature of the court order itself and how targeted it was.
"The U.S. will be held accountable to these commitments both through review mechanisms and through redress possibilities, including the newly established Ombudsperson mechanism in the U.S. State Department," Wigand said.
A joint annual review to ensure the United States is respecting its commitment to limit the amount of data hoovered up by U.S. agents is provided by Privacy Shield to which Yahoo has not signed up to as yet.
A senior U.S. government official said that if the reports were true the surveillance would have been targeted at identifying terrorists while protecting the privacy of others but could not confirm or deny the reports about Yahoo.
That would be "good intelligence work," he said.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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