On Yahoo and PRISM, and the Art of Playing Chicken

I was reading the New York Times article which reveals that a secret intelligence court threatened to fine Yahoo! $250,000 a day for failing to turn over confidential customer/user data.

Now, one can hardly fault a publicly traded company for not wanting to incur nearly $2,000,000 a week in fines. That’s a hefty chunk of change to play chicken with.

But here’s a take-away for future companies in this position: PLAY CHICKEN. YOU WILL WIN.

First, the only way the government can collect is either by seizing the cash outright (which will expand the number of people who know there’s something going on between the NSA and the company in question).

Second, if they DO, remind them that — as a publicly traded company — you’re going to have to mention this fact in the next quarter’s SEC filings. That’s a material change to cash-flow that it would be a felony to conceal from shareholders, and which would show up in your next annual audit, the results of which are public information, anyway. “Of course, we won’t name you, we’ll simply say, ‘We are being fined based on court orders from an intelligence court which we can’t even confirm the existence of.'”  Let the NSA stew over how they’re going to react to the bad press on that.

Remember that the most important thing to the intelligence community is the cover of darkness. That’s one of the lessons of the Snowden disclosure. If you are willing to stand up to them, chances are, they are not going to take the chance that their bullying tactics, and the reason for those bullying tactics, will be exposed in the light of day.