On stage at TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday, after signing Michael Arrington's copy of Vogue, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer offered an odd defense of tech companies silence over PRISM. "We fought, we lost. If you don't comply it's treason."

The discussion about Silicon Valley's complacent approach to the NSA's demands begins at 18:55. Mayer first brings it up in reference to Yahoo's role in a 2007 lawsuit:

I'm proud to be part of an organization, from the very beginning in 2007 with the NSA and FISA and PRISM has been skeptical of and has been scrutinizing those requests. In 2007, Yahoo filed a lawsuit against the new—against the Patriot Act parts of PRISM and FISA. We fought that: we were the key plaintiff. A lot of people have wondered about that case, and who it was, it was us.

When you lose—so we fought, we lost, if you don't comply it's treason.

Mayer repeated that claim again when Arrington asked what would really happen if she just laid it all out there.

Releasing classified information is treason, which generally ends you incarcerated. Or it could.

As evidence of her pushback against the NSA, she mentioned the lawsuit Yahoo filed on Monday against the NSA's data requests and the fact that Yahoo released a government transparency report for the first time ever last week. Then she dropped the t-bomb again after Arrington thanked her for her candor.

Arrington: I want to thank you, because I’ve asked this question of every single person . . . I haven’t gotten a single answer yet that I thought was even an honest answer. For you to say what you said and reasons why you can’t talk is great. Thank you.

Mayer: As I said, this isn’t about this particular thing. It’s just classified information [unintelligible] can be classified that way and if it is classified as treason, it can be, so you know. That’s what I can say.

Arrington: But you don’t think the best way to serve your shareholders and users is from jail.

Mayer: [Nods]

#Bravebrand. But let's look at those looming prison stripes a little more closely, shall we? When I emailed Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, to ask if he'd seen Mayer's comments, he emailed back a single word, along with the definition of "treason" from Title 18 of the U.S. Code:


Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States. 18 U.S.C. 2381

TechDirt reported the same thing:

Releasing classified information to the public is not covered. She is right that Yahoo fought a key FISA court lawsuit and lost — and she's right that if Yahoo didn't comply, it (and its executives) would be in serious trouble, but not treason-level trouble.

Maybe she was looking at the U.S. Code upside down?

To contact the author of this post, please email nitasha@gawker.com.

[Image via Getty]