Reddit’s warrant canary has disappeared, leaving nary a metaphorical feather in its wake after it flew the company’s latest transparency report.
The CEO has said that he can’t comment on the issue: a remark that points straight to the company being under a warrant’s gag order.
CEO Steve Huffman – the user “spez” – had this to say in a Reddit discussion about the issue:
I’ve been advised not to say anything one way or the other.
A warrant canary is a published statement that changes or disappears from the documentation published by ISPs, telecoms and other technology providers when they’ve been gagged by secret court orders.
The way canaries work is that companies inform us, in their transparency reports, when their customers have not been served with a secret government subpoena.
Such secret subpoenas, such as National Security Letters, come with gag orders that keep companies from telling customers they’ve been served.
When a company publishes the dates that it hasn’t received a subpoena, customers can then infer – from the missing information – the dates that the company must have been served with the subpoena.
This all assumes that while the government can compel silence, it can’t compel companies to lie about not having gotten a gag order.
A coalition of legal and civil liberties organizations in February 2015 launched a site – CanaryWatch.org – to monitor known warrant canaries.
After all, their thinking went, unless you’re paying close attention to a particular site’s warrant canary, it can be tough to notice something that’s not there.
This is what Reddit’s canary looked like in last year’s transparency report:
As of January 29, 2015, reddit has never received a National Security Letter (NSL), an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or any other classified request for user information. If we ever receive such a request, we would seek to let the public know it existed.
Reddit posted its latest transparency report on Thursday, and the canary’s disappearance was quickly spotted.
Reddit being subpoenaed and gagged isn’t surprising.
Its splattery history includes hosting content on gore, torture, racism, executions, stolen nude celebrity photos, and drugs – including links to popular drug markets, tutorials on how to use them, product reviews, and the equivalent of grocery store weekly circulars that let vendors advertise their wares.
In fact, a year ago, the Feds subpoenaed Reddit to try to get the company to rat out five prominent Redditors active in the “Darknet Markets” dark web drug forum subreddit.
Was Reddit served with a gag order as investigators pursue the drug lords and scammers enriched by the abrupt vanishing of Evolution, the top market (and, by some measures, the biggest ever) that disappeared along with up to $12 million worth of Bitcoin?
We’ll likely never know.
Image of yellow canary courtesy of Alandmanson – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
4 comments on “Reddit’s warrant canary is now pushing up the daisies”
I catch the concept, but am missing how this really works. A example or two would have been a great addition of what was there and then missing…
It does. The 2015 transparency report said “As of January 29, 2015, reddit has never received a National Security Letter (NSL)…”, and the 2016 report did not include any such line.
Many web sites have the same thing. At the bottom of the page, “we have not currently been served any warrants etc etc”. If that ceases to be true, they remove that text.
That’s all. That’s all you get, because often a warrant includes a clause precluding the recipient from saying so. But, far as we know, they can’t stop you from NOT saying you HAVEN’T been served a warrant.
That’s all you get, but it’s at least something. More detail is up to the lawyers to decide.
Or is it? (As Family Guy might have said!) Is the timing on this indicative of the Feds desperately hoping to plug or locate the source of the Panama Tax Leaks? Dum dum dum dum!