Reddit ‘warrant canary’ disappearance sparks surveillance fears

1 Apr 2016

Reddit alien head image via Wikimedia Commons

Reddit has quietly killed its ‘warrant canary’ included in its latest transparency report, sparking fears from users that the ‘front page of the internet’ has been compromised by surveillance from the US government.

As part of its aim for greater transparency, Reddit has orchestrated a policy of including a ‘warrant canary’ on its policy page, which included a paragraph detailing that it had not been forced to reveal user information after the receiving what are known as ‘national security letters’.

According to Reuters, the letters issued to sites like Reddit would allow the FBI to conduct electronic surveillance on users of the site without the need to issue any warrants, and now the paragraph on Reddit that says it has never received such a letter has mysteriously disappeared from the new transparency report.

This has led to many jumping to the logical conclusion that Reddit has now indeed received one of these letters, suggesting it has been forced to hand over data but it doesn’t necessarily want to draw attention to the fact.

‘The whole thing is icky’

While Reddit has yet to make a formal statement on the matter, one of the site’s administrators, going under the name ‘spez’, was the one who issued the 2015 version of the transparency report, but is now facing questions from users fearful over who controls their information.

In response to one user highlighting the missing warrant canary paragraph, spez replied: “Even with the canaries, we’re treading a fine line. The whole thing is icky”.

When pressed on the exact details of whether a gag order had been issued as a result of the canary paragraph being taken down, spez could only say he had been advised from his/her superiors to not say anything on the matter.

In his original statement on the transparency report, spez and Reddit highlighted the site’s alliance with Apple regarding the recent case calling for the decryption of a terrorist’s iPhone, which was eventually accessed without the cooperation of Apple.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic