Like almost all the actions of the secret court, which operates under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the details of its disagreement with Yahoo were never made public beyond a heavily redacted court order, one of the few public documents ever to emerge from the court. The name of the company had not been revealed until now. Yahoo’s involvement was confirmed by two people with knowledge of the proceedings. Yahoo declined to comment.In the last four years the FISA court denied just two of 8,591 applications by the government, requesting surveillance that could be as broad as monitoring call information for an entire country, the Times reports. The FISA requests and the NSLs are secret and the recipients (companies like Yahoo) can't even say that they've received the requests. But a handful of cases do demonstrate resistance.
But the decision has had lasting repercussions for the dozens of companies that store troves of their users’ personal information and receive these national security requests—it puts them on notice that they need not even try to test their legality. And despite the murky details, the case offers a glimpse of the push and pull among tech companies and the intelligence and law enforcement agencies that try to tap into the reams of personal data stored on their servers. [...]
Lawyers who handle national security requests for tech companies say they rarely fight in court, but frequently push back privately by negotiating with the government, even if they ultimately have to comply. In addition to Yahoo, which fought disclosures under FISA, other companies, including Google, Twitter, smaller communications providers and a group of librarians, have fought in court elements of National Security Letters, which the F.B.I. uses to secretly collect information about Americans. Last year, the government issued more than 1,850 FISA requests and 15,000 National Security Letters.
One unnamed communications company in San Francisco has a pending case now under appeal by the government in federal court. It won its original complaint in March, when a Federal District Court judge ruled the government's request unconstitutional. Google and Microsoft won a small concession from the Justice Department, and now can say that they've received between 0 and 999 letters.