Apple hides a Patriot-Act-busting "warrant canary" in its transparency report

"A green budgie sitting on a human finger." Thomas Skjaeveland/Shutterstock.

The Patriot Act provides for secret warrants to spy on ISPs' customers. These "Section 215" warrants come with gag orders that mean that the company can't disclose their existence. This lack of transparency is ripe for abuse and is bad for ISPs' business. Apple is fighting back with a "warrant canary": they've published a transparency report (PDF) that states "Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge an order if served on us." If they are served with a 215 order in future, their next transparency report will drop this language, omitting any mention of 215, and keen-eyed watchers will know that they've been subjected to a secret order. I proposed a more ambitious version of this in September, though I was hardly the first person to suggest it. Good for Apple for using it.

Notable Replies

  1. Next step, a ban on being able to confirm or deny whether you've received one.

    After that, well, there's really only [REDACTED]

  2. Next step is the NSL requiring the recipient to deny they have ever received a NSL. At that point, we drop the canaries, and anybody denying it is compromised. And the arms race continues.

  3. jgi says:

    Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I imagine that if the US Government tried to go to toe-to-toe with Apple... you know, the company that has $150B in cash and has a ubiquitous device that lives in the pockets of many elected officials ... well, I'm thinking that Apple would probably win, canary or not. Money talks, bullshit walks, etc. Golden rule... he who has the gold makes the rules. You get my drift. That's how it works in America.

  4. Warrant Canaries have not yet been tested in court. However, they are likely to be tolerated in that requiring someone to lie is a severe violation of the First Amendment. Folks on BBS have shown pretty solidly in other conversations on this subject that Warrant Canaries should work and have given some examples rooted in current legal trends. If you've got some evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it (not sarcastic, I'm endlessly curious).

  5. That bird in the graphic is a budgie, not a canary. The OCD is really burning on that one.

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