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Yahoo follows Apple and Facebook with first law enforcement transparency report

Following the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook, Yahoo has published its first global law enforcement transparency report.

The report details government requests for Yahoo user data from 1 January through 30 June of this year. During that period, the Internet firm received 12,444 requests from US authorities relating to a total of 40,322 user accounts.

In 6,798 of those instances, Yahoo disclosed "non-content data," such as a user's name, alternate email address, location, IP address, login details, and billing information. In response to another 4,604 requests, the company handed over user-created content, such as emails, Flickr photos, uploaded files, address book entries, calendar details, comments or posts on Yahoo Answers, and/or thoughts recorded in Notepad.

Yahoo flat-out rejected 241 requests and did not find any data for another 801 instances, the company said.

"Democracy demands accountability, and accountability requires transparency," Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell wrote in a Tumblr post. "We hope our report encourages governments around the world to more openly share information about the requests they make for users' information."

Yahoo in June first announced plans to begin publishing transparency reports. The company said it will update its reporting every six months.

In the report, Yahoo stressed that it does not volunteer user data to governments. The company said it regularly pushes back against improper requests for data, and fights those that are unclear, overly broad, or unlawful.

Under the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the US government can order companies to turn over data, but those companies are not at liberty to publicly disclose those requests. Thus, companies like Yahoo reached an arrangement with the feds whereby they can broadly reveal the number of secret, government requests, but only if they are lumped in with other, less sensitive data.

"We mounted a two-year legal challenge to the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and recently won a motion requiring the U.S. Government to consider further declassifying court documents from that case," Yahoo said in its report.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Facebook also recently released transparency reports. In the last six months of 2012, Microsoft said it received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas, and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts. Facebook said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests related to 18,000 to 19,000 accounts.

In its latest transparency report, Apple said it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from US law enforcement officials between 1 December 2012 and 31 May 2013, covering between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices.