The US government in 2008 threatened to fine Yahoo Inc. $250,000 a day if it failed to turn over customer data to intelligence agencies, according to documents unsealed on Thursday.
The documents shed new light on how the government dealt with US Internet companies that were reluctant to comply with orders from the secretive US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which rules on government requests to conduct surveillance for national security issues.
Yahoo lost the battle, which experts say helped pave the way for the Prism surveillance program revealed last summer by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
"It's always been a little bit behind the curtain as to what Internet companies do when they actually receive these requests. Now we have evidence that Yahoo did in fact fight this battle and look at considerable fines as a consequence of not disclosing the data," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"It tells us how very serious the Bush administration was about trying to get the Internet firms to turn over this data. Until the disclosure, it was mostly hearsay that they were willing to impose these penalties."
"That's heavy handed," he added, referring to the threat of fines.