US government drops demands for Yahoo email details

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Electronic Frontier Foundation announces victory in privacy case.

The US government has backed down on its plans to force Yahoo to hand over details of its email user accounts.

Yahoo was due to start battling with the US government in a federal court case over email account monitoring.

The government had demanded access to Yahoo's user email archives, which the web firm argued contravenes the US Stored Communications Act, and should in any case require a search warrant.

Yahoo was supported by Google and a coalition of privacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy in Technology.

Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the EFF, said today that the US government had backed down in the face of "stiff resistance".

The government had reacted to an Amicus brief filed by the EFF coalition, according to Bankston, and had filed its own brief claiming that it "no longer had an investigative need for the emails" and is "withdrawing the government's motion".

However, Bankston said that the issue goes deeper than the Yahoo case. He demanded a "clear ruling on the legality and constitutionality of the government's overreaching demand", and said that such demands are an increasingly routine aspect of law enforcement.

Bankston argued that, by withdrawing the complaint, the government had not allowed the court to provide an opinion on whether warrantless email surveillance is legal.

"The right answer here is to let the courts decide, not to have the government turn tail and run whenever someone seeks a real judicial review of its position," he said.

"Today's capitulation by the government is a profound disappointment to those of us seeking to clarify and strengthen the legal protections for your private data.

"Court rulings are needed to keep the government within its legal bounds when it comes to warrantless communications and location surveillance."

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