Alphabet Inc's Google and Microsoft Corp, two major USA email service providers, did not respond to requests for comment.
United States law allows the country's intelligence agencies to order the release of customer data that they believe could prevent a terrorist attack, among other reasons.
"Hard to believe this program was confined to Yahoo", Glenn Greenwald, editor of The Intercept and journalist behind the Edward Snowden disclosures, tweeted. "The government appears to have compelled Yahoo to conduct precisely the type of general, suspicionless search that the Fourth Amendment was meant to prohibit". Apple CEO Tim Cook rejected a court order to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation bypass security functions on an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the December 2015 San Bernardino attacks that killed 14.
"It is deeply disappointing that Yahoo declined to challenge this sweeping surveillance order, because customers are counting on technology companies to stand up to novel spying demands in court", Toomey continued. It adds that some Yahoo employees were upset by that decision. So-called "upstream" bulk collection from phone carriers based on content was found to be legal, they said, and the same logic could apply to Web companies' mail.
The perception of cooperation with American intelligence agencies has pushed some companies, most notably Apple, to adopt highly sophisticated encryption and security schemes that make it impossible for the company to give up some user data and communications. Rather than fight what Mayer saw would be a losing battle with the intelligence agencies, she made a decision to comply.
The report indicates that the software was developed without consultation with Yahoo's security team, including prominent then-Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos.
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Yahoo has been in the news recently for many reasons.
Sources say the team had originally thought they'd been hacked.
Mayer's reluctance to inform her security team of the program points toward the ethical gray area it operated in.
The sources go on to claim that Stamos, who resigned from his Yahoo role after learning about the software, said there was a "programming flaw" with it that left the siphoned emails exposed to outside hackers. The email were reportedly then stored in a way that USA spies could remotely access them.
Stamos's announcement in June 2015 that he had joined Facebook did not mention any problems with Yahoo. Last month it revealed that 500 million accounts had their passwords stolen.
Yahoo, which sold to Verizon for almost $5 billion this year, has been having a very rough couple of weeks when it comes to the security news cycle.