When the government came to Yahoo with a request that Yahoo help it spy on foreign users without a warrant, the company refused and sent its top lawyers to argue the case in a secret court proceeding, sources tell the New York Times. Its argument: users' Fourth Amendment rights would be violated. A key word in the court's response: It dubbed such a concern "overblown." When Yahoo lost the 2008 case, it essentially had no choice but to join the NSA's PRISM program.
The case was never made public, save for a heavily redacted court order in which Yahoo's name itself was blacked out. But the Times reports the case sent a message to other tech companies that there was no point in fighting the NSA's requests. But the Times did speak with lawyers who say many tech companies have fought information requests all the same, though they usually try to negotiate rather than going to secret courts. "The tech companies try to pick their battles," says one law professor. "Behind the scenes, different tech companies show different degrees of cooperativeness or pugnaciousness."