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Yahoo Said to Have Helped Email Surveillance of U.S. by Adapting Spam Filter

On Wednesday, many people familiar to this matter said that a system planned to scan emails for child pornography as well as spam, helped Yahoo to convince a secret court order needed to look for messages enclosing a computer "signature" tied to communications of a terrorist organization sponsored by state.

Two anonymous government officials said that Justice Department collected an individualized order from a judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year. Yahoo was banned from revealing this matter. To comply this ban, Yahoo customized a prevailing scanning system for all incoming email traffic which also looks for malware.

It is not clear that this digital signature belongs to which terrorist group. However, according to sources, a judge was convinced about the probable cause of this mission and he or she approved the court order personally. Apparently, this came after an Intelligence agency of US discovered that this terrorist group was using Yahoo Mail and their messages somehow involved a "highly unique" signature.

According to the original report, Yahoo itself built custom software to scan emails and this latest group claims that Yahoo utilized its existing, and later on modified, spam filter technology to scan the incoming messages. The sources reveal that Yahoo stored emails via these apparent modifications which tripped the flag, enabling the FBI to get a copy of them to review.

The system-wide spying was because investigators did not know what email address(es) was/were being used. Slashgear.com posted on October 6th, 2016, quoting the sources as saying that the scanning was only for messages containing this identifier and not anything else.

The report says that investigators of FBI started the order after having learnt that agents of a foreign terrorist organization were using email service of Yahoo to communicate. This included an exclusive method which used digital signatures but investigators were unable to locate those particular accounts being used to communicate and thus wanted to scan through as many as emails as possible.

Yahoo has not gone into details till now but it called the first report which announced this story as "misleading" and later issued a statement claiming that "The mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems."

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