A warrant canary is a statement declaring that a website has not received any classified data requests from government or law enforcement. It is named after the early-warning birds which were taken down mine shafts to alert workers of toxic gases.
Reddit’s 2014 report stated it had not received any classified demands, but the 2015 update did not say this.
For users, it offers a reminder that what they say and do on Reddit is just as likely to be targeted by investigators as Facebook posts and Gmail messages are.
A collection of message boards filled with notoriously vocal users, the pseudo-anonymous service on Thursday removed a line – a “warrant canary” – from its annual report on government data requests that said it had never received a secret request for user data under the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or Fisa.
So-called national security letters seeking data are usually secret by nature and the recipients often cannot acknowledge their existence. As a clever workaround, many technology companies put declarations on their websites or in their data request reports stating that, as of a certain date, they’ve never received a national security letter.