Yahoo allowed U.S. intelligence agencies to access user emails via a special program built in secret by company engineers, according to a Reuters report.
The tech giant complied with a directive from the U.S. government in 2015 that allowed the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to scan hundreds of millions of emails for a certain string of characters, according to three sources Reuters spoke with.
It is not known what information the company handed over, what characters the government was searching for, or if any other email providers were approached with the same government directive.
The claim would be the first known instance of a U.S. company combing through its traffic at the behest of a U.S. intelligence agency. Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have shown the agency has combed internet traffic for certain terms, but the traffic was monitored on global internet pipelines or collected for further search.
According to Reuters, the special search was approved by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer after executives determined the company would lose a legal battle over an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Alex Stamos, Yahoo’s CISO at the time, was not made aware of the custom search program, and resigned in May 2015.
The email bombshell comes during a delicate time for Yahoo. Last month, it was revealed that User details from more than 500 million Yahoo accounts — including names, birth dates and encrypted passwords — were stolen nearly two years ago. The company has blamed state-sponsored hackers.
Additionally, Verizon is in the process of acquiring Yahoo in a deal worth around $4.8 million.
Verizon declined comment on the Reuters report.