Since the Snowden leaks, Yahoo and other internet companies have been seeking to make public court documents to show they were forced to comply with the US government requests
US authorities threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it failed to comply with a secret surveillance program requiring it to hand over user data in the name of national security, court documents have showed.
In a blog post that will again raise privacy concerns, Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell said, these documents, made public in a rare unsealing by a secretive court panel, 'underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the US government's surveillance efforts'.
The documents shed new light on the PRISM snooping program revealed in leaked files from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The program allowed US intelligence services to sweep up massive amounts of data from major Internet companies including Yahoo and Google. Officials have said the deeply contentious program ended in 2011.
The 1,500 pages of documents were ordered released by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the case dating from 2007, according to Bell, who said that in 2007, the US government "amended a key law to demand user information from online services."
"We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overboard surveillance and challenged the US government's authority," he said.
Yahoo's court challenge failed and it was forced to hand over the US user data.
"At one point, the US government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply," Bell revealed.
Since the Snowden leaks, Yahoo and others have been seeking to make public these court documents to show they were forced to comply with government requests and made numerous attempts to fight these efforts, rather than simply acquiescing to them, as some critics say.
The opening of these court dockers to the public "is extremely rare," Bell said, adding that the company was in the process of making the 1,500 pages publicly available online.
"We consider this an important win for transparency and hope that these records help promote informed discussion about the relationship between privacy, due process, and intelligence gathering," Bell added.
But he said that "despite the declassification and release, portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team."
The redacted court records, seen by AFP, showed Yahoo challenged the government on constitutional grounds, saying the surveillance program violated protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Texas-based Applied Food Science is asked by the FTC to pay $3.5 million to settle misleading weight-loss claims complaint
Just because a company touts a “clinical study” that it says proves its product works doesn’t mean you should believe it. Especially when it comes to weight loss. Make that especially when it comes to weight loss and green coffee extract.
On Monday, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled allegations with Texas-based Applied Food Service Inc that it used a “hopelessly flawed” study to promote weight loss claims for its green coffee extract product. The study was also touted on The Dr. Oz Show.
(More on Oz and his miracle products here.) The company agreed to pay $3.5 million and have at least two adequate and well-controlled human clinical tests to support any future weight loss claims it makes.
The FTC said in its complaint that the company paid researchers in India to conduct a clinical trial but that the trial’s lead investigator repeatedly altered weights and other key measurements of the subjects, changed the trial length and misstated which subjects were taking placebos and which were taking the dietary supplement, Green Coffee Antioxidant, that contained the green coffee extract. The company used the study to claim that the product caused consumers to lose 17 pounds in 22 weeks, and these results were repeated by retailers marketing the products to consumers.
“Applied Food Sciences knew or should have known that this botched study didn’t prove anything,’’ said Jessica Rich, the FTC’s director of the bureau of consumer protection. “In publicizing the results it helped fuel the green coffee phenomenon.”
An updated tally by ProPublica shows that tobacco bondholders in the US are due $2.6 billion of the $6 billion in this year’s payouts to state and local governments from Big Tobacco
Each April, cigarette manufacturers pay states billions of dollars to reimburse them for the health-care costs of smoking. About $100 billion has been paid so far, all under a landmark 1998 legal settlement with Big Tobacco. The payments are to go on forever as long as people smoke.
Much of the money, however, doesn't go to government coffers anymore. As ProPublica reported last month, a large chunk now flows to investors – the result of deals that politicians and Wall Street bankers arranged to get cash up-front by trading away the tobacco income decades into the future.
How much are investors getting? About 44 percent, or nearly one in every two dollars the tobacco companies pay out each year, an updated analysis by ProPublica shows.
The figure incorporates new data from California and New York counties and cities that also share tobacco settlement money. It updates our earlier estimate that at least one in three dollars goes to investors who bought bonds used to "securitize" the money coming in. See "How Tobacco Bonds Work."
Until now, it has been unclear how much money has been tied up in securitizations. The deals aren't tracked by the National Association of Attorneys General, which monitors the payments. State and local officials aren't required to report how they spend the money.
This year, investors were pledged $2.6 billion of the $6 billion paid out by tobacco companies. Forty-six states, five territories and the District of Columbia get a share under the terms of the 1998 settlement, which grew out of a multi-jurisdictional lawsuit over the cost of illnesses caused by smoking.
California and New York are unique in that, unlike the other states party to the settlement, they share their settlement proceeds with county governments and some cities.
All told, 35 New York counties, plus New York City, and 24 California counties and the City of San Diego have securitized all or a portion of their settlement dollars as of 2014, according to bond documents reviewed by ProPublica and interviews with dozens of county officials.
Anti-smoking groups have criticized securitization. That's because attorneys general who negotiated the legal settlement had hoped part of the money would be spent on smoking prevention.
Language in the settlement says the intent was to achieve "significant funding for the advancement of public health" and "the implementation of important tobacco-related public health measures."
"It's incredibly disappointing," said Cathy Callaway, associate director of state and local campaigns for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
Securitization, she said, "just continues to dwindle the pot of revenue that could be used for tobacco control programs and should be used for tobacco control programs."
Nationally, states are spending only about 15 percent of the $3.3 billion the Centers for Disease Control recommends they should for tobacco control, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-smoking group. Anti-smoking groups estimate that during their 2014 fiscal years, states brought in $25 billion from tobacco taxes and the 1998 settlement.
Nothing in the settlement directs how governments should spend the tobacco money. And some states that have securitized, like Alaska, still fund significant tobacco control programs. But more often, the money from issuing tobacco bonds went to other uses.
In New Jersey, for instance, lawmakers used proceeds from their tobacco bond sales to plug budget holes. Across the New York counties, ProPublica found that the most common use of the money from securitizing was to repay old debts to save on interest payments.
Those savings came at a cost: Because the tobacco bonds are payable only from the 1998 settlement proceeds, investors demanded higher interest rates than for less-risky general obligation debts backed by taxpayers. That means investors discounted the future cash from the settlement at higher rates and governments got less money up front – sometimes as little as two cents on the dollar, ProPublica found.
As of this year there are approximately $36 billion in tobacco bonds outstanding.
Proponents of securitization say it allows governments to avoid the risk of nonpayment.
By cashing in early, the money was immediately available for projects to benefit taxpayers. Because only tobacco settlement income could be used to repay the bonds, investors and not the governments would take a hit if one of the cigarette manufacturers went belly-up or the annual payments shrank.
The payments are based largely on cigarette sales and have been dropping as smoking bans and prevention efforts bear fruit. But the settlement also requires an annual inflation adjustment of at least 3 percent, which slows the decline.
More importantly, tobacco companies remain profitable and able to pay. Overall U.S. tobacco industry sales are declining but still are estimated to top $41 billion this year, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm. Profit margins are expected to grow.
As such, the money is likely to keep benefitting residents in place like Southern California's San Bernardino County, which never securitized. The county receives $17 million to $22 million each year and uses it to pay off debt from a medical center and to fund public health programs that include smoking cessation.
Said Gary McBride, the county's chief financial officer: "We're still happily collecting our money."