Yahoo! joins transparency club as more UK requests refused

Another transparency report, another reminder all is not well.

Yahoo! has just added its own statistics to those of Facebook, Microsoft, Google and others. We blogged last week on Facebook’s new data and the questions that now urgently need answering about how powers to access data are being used and the oversight of surveillance powers.

Yahoo! rejected 456 requests – that’s 27% of all the requests they received. They also disclosed content – which highlights that the authorities are able to access more than just the “who, what and where” of communications. Another reminder that far from being a wild west, UK authorities are able to access content and other data from online communications companies.

As we gain a fuller picture of how internet companies are assisting UK law enforcement (thanks to the companies themselves, not the British authorities) it is impossible to say that the current system is operating properly. Thousands of requests are being refused every year by the various communications companies who now publish transparency reports.

Thanks to a parliamentary question from Julian Huppert MP we know that in 2012 only 114 formal legal requests were made to the US government for data.

In other words, despite a request being signed off as “necessary and proportionate” by an authorised officer, hundreds of requests are deemed as not being legally valid by companies – and then abandoned by the police forces responsible. If, as they should be, they are necessary and proportionate, it is odd to see how many requests are not then taken through the formal legal process. (We have previously highlighted how the data covered could be “preserved” by the companies involved until the conclusion of the legal process, as is the case with many parts of US law enforcement.)

The more we learn – from companies – the bigger the questions become for British authorities. Perhaps the most pertinent of all is this – will the regulator, the Interception of Communications Commissioner – do anything to find out who so many requests are being made by British police and refused by the companies involved.

Here’s Yahoo!’s full data for the UK.

No Data Found Rejected Only NCD Disclosed Content Disclosed Total Government Data Requests Total Government Specified Accounts
146 456 760 347 1,709 2,832