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Victory for Yahoo in PRISM battle

The ruling will reveal details of Yahoo's fight against the classification of the program.

Yahoo has won a court battle ordering the government to declassify and publish a court decision justifying PRISM, the data collection program exposed by former security contractor Edward Snowden.Picture:AFP

SAN FRANCISCO - A secret US court overseeing government domestic surveillance activities has sided with Yahoo Inc and ordered the government to declassify and publish a 2008 court decision justifying PRISM, the data collection program exposed last month by former security contractor Edward Snowden.

The decision to release the ruling comes as Snowden remains at a Moscow airport, awaiting political asylum.

On Tuesday, he applied for asylum in Russia.

The ruling could offer a glimpse into how the government has legally justified its spy agencies data collection programs under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

In June, after Snowden leaked information about Prism to the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers, Yahoo's lawyers asked the courts and government to declassify and publish decisions upholding the constitutionality of the program.

The 2008 ruling stemmed from Yahoo's challenge of the legality of broad, warrantless surveillance programs like Prism.

Until recent weeks, Yahoo was prohibited from discussing its activities in the secret courts or even acknowledging the existence of its legal challenge.

Legal experts who follow surveillance cases said the 2008 ruling may not reveal any strikingly legal reasoning by the government or the courts.

But civil liberties advocates said the significance of the ruling may lie in the court's decision itself to declassify the previously secret 2008 ruling.

"Unless the public knows what the laws mean, it can't really assess how much power (it has) given its government," said Patrick Toomey, a national security fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The government is expected to decide by 26 August which parts of the opinion may be published.

VICTORY FOR ONLINE PRIVACY

The decision is also a victory for Yahoo Inc, which said in a statement on Tuesday that it was "very pleased" with the court's ruling.

"Once those documents are made public, we believe they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy," Yahoo said.

Other Internet companies, including Google Inc and Facebook Inc, began participating in Prism in early 2009 soon after Yahoo lost its appeal before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

It is not known if Yahoo, or any other party, has sought to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

A number of major US Internet companies, including Microsoft, Google and Facebook have asked the government for permission to disclose the number of national security-related user data requests they receive.

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