Warrant canaries die quietly so their passing can escape notice. But that’s less likely to happen now thanks to “Canary Watch,” a new website that tracks the health of warrant canaries used by tech firms and other organizations susceptible to receiving a secret data demand from the U.S. government.
So what exactly is a warrant canary? Named for the birds used to test for danger in a coal mine, they first appeared in 2002 when Vermont libraries posted “the FBI hasn’t been here” signs in response to the Patriot Act, which allowed the government to demand information under gag orders. If the sign disappears, the patrons can infer something is up.
Digital warrant canaries work the same way. Used by tech companies like Tumblr, they consist of a message on a website or in a transparency report that says something like “We have issued zero National Security Letters.”
The problem, however, is that it can be hard to keep track of which companies…
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