Warrant canaries — regularly-updated public statements that an organization has not been served with a secret government subpoena — are not a new idea, but it’s interesting to observe how they are still evolving. As Mike noted in an article that appeared in November 2013, they were originally suggested for libraries, and then were picked up by major Internet companies like Apple. Now there’s a move into the world of publishing. The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media, has just unveiled its first warrant canary:
Status: All good
Period: April, 2015
During this period, First Look Media Inc. has received:
Zero National Security Letters
Zero Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders
Zero gag orders that prevent us from from stating that we have received legal process seeking our customers’ information
General Counsel, Media Operations
First Look Media, Inc
As The Intercept article announcing this move points out, there is a site called Canary Watch, which keeps track of warrant canaries. That’s one sign of the increasing normalization of the idea. Another is the release of new software from First Look called AutoCanary:
AutoCanary is a desktop program for Windows, Mac, and Linux that makes the process of generating machine-readable, digitally signed warrant canary statements simpler.
Here’s how it works:
Choose one person in your organization (probably your General Counsel) to be responsible for signing warrant canary statements. This person must have a PGP key.
Choose how often you wish to issue canary statements (available options include weekly, monthly, quarterly, and semi-annually).
Set a recurring event with a reminder in your calendar to sign your canary statement. This is important: failing to publish your canary statement on time could result in automated alarms ringing. If your canary stops tweeting, it may lead your users to believe you’ve received a gag order when you haven’t.
Create a page on your website to publish your warrant canary message
That’s hardly a complicated process, but it’s good to see First Look making it even easier with AutoCanary, especially since the software has been released as open source, along with pdf-redact-tools, “a set of tools to help with securely redacting and stripping metadata from documents before publishing.” Partly as a result of this move, we can probably expect to see many more warrant canaries being published in the future.