Reddit recently published their 2015 Transparency Report, in which they tell how many times they received official requests for user information. However, NSA letters often require that the companies receiving them keep the letters themselves secret. So how to let the world know you've received one? Kill a canary:
At the bottom of its 2014 transparency report, the company wrote: "As of January 29, 2015, reddit has never received a National Security Letter, 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."
That language was conspicuously missing from the 2015 transparency report that was published Thursday morning.
Warrant canaries work like this: a company publishes anotice saying that a warrant has not been served as of a particular date. Should that notice be taken down, users are to surmise that the company has indeed been served with one. The theory is that while a court can compel someone to not speak (a gag order), it cannot compel someone to lie. The only problem is that warrant canaries have yet to be fully tested in court.
When users wondered if this meant the site had been subjected to a secret court order in the /announcements/ subreddit, CEO Steve Huffman, known on the site as "spez," wrote: "I've been advised not to say anything one way or the other."
Secret warrants are totalitarian instruments that have no place in an open democracy. We need to end the practice. I hope someone with the balls and bucks challenges one soon.