Do you know what a warrant canary is?

Do you know what a warrant canary is?

If you use the Internet, you probably should. While most people think that what they do online in the privacy of their own home is generally their own business, that’s a mistake that has put many a person at the defendant’s table inside a courtroom.

Here’s the thing that most people don’t realize: a government warrant for information from Internet companies like Reddit, Adobe, Facebook, Pinterest and others, can come with a gag order known as a national security letter. Under the rules surrounding national security letters, an Internet company cannot even warn users that they might be under observation by the government.

Many people feel that this allows a great deal of government overreach and lets certain agencies go on “fishing expeditions” looking for supposedly criminal activity.

However, a number of large Internet sites have found a subtle way of fighting back against government intrusion: the warrant canary.

A warrant canary gets its name from the canary that coal miners used to keep in the mines to warn against a silent danger: gas leaks. If the canary died, the miners knew they needed to protect themselves.

The modern equivalent helps websites keep a certain degree of open communication with its visitors, despite the gag order imposed by any national security letter. The canary warrant is usually tucked into a company’s transparency statement, but they’ve also appeared on a site’s header, footer or banner. It’s generally nothing more than a broad statement that says something like, “Our company has never received a warrant covered by a national security letter or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

If that statement disappears, that signals the warrant canary’s “death” and puts users on notice that their Internet activity may be under government surveillance.

For example, Reddit removed its warrant canary in mid-2016, indicating that it had received at least one secret warrant. Of the warrants the company can legally discuss, the company indicates that it has received roughly three times the number it did just three years ago, in 2014.

Internet crimes are being taken more seriously than ever. If you have any idea that you may be under surveillance or are charged with a crime related to your Internet communications or activities, contact a criminal defense attorney promptly.

Source: engdget, “Reddit law enforcement requests have tripled in two years,” Steve Dent, April 04, 2017

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