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The Internet Censorship Government

Time For a Warrant Canary Metatag? 332

Posted by timothy
from the unless-double-secret-probation-prohibits-canaries dept.
An anonymous reader writes "With the advent of national security letters and all the NSA issues of late perhaps the web needs to implement a warrant 'warrant canary' metatag. Something like this: <meta name="canary" content="2013-11-17" />. With this it would be possible to build into browsers or browser extensions a means of alerting users when a company has in fact received such a secret warrant. (Similar to the actions taken by Apple recently.) The advantage the metatag approach would have its that it would not require the user to search out a report by the company in question but would show the information upon loading of the page. Once the canary metatag was not found or when the date of the canary grows older than a given date a warning could be raised. Several others have proposed similar approaches including Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic and Cory Doctorow's Dead Man's Switch." What problems do you see with this approach?
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Time For a Warrant Canary Metatag?

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  • Re:Uhh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JDeane (1402533) on Sunday November 17, 2013 @10:31AM (#45448389) Journal

    That and if your companies router is compromised at the firmware, who is to say that the company even knows it's data is being compromised?

    Even talking about things like a warrant to do a wire tap, I don't think the agencies are forced to tell anyone "Hey we are tapping your communications, here is the warrant."

    Also some companies willingly work with these agencies so they probably wouldn't use this tag.

  • by martas (1439879) on Sunday November 17, 2013 @10:36AM (#45448421)
    I've heard similar proposals before, and it seems very murky from a legal standpoint. With a highly automated system like this meta tag, I think most judges wouldn't have a problem deciding that you violated the terms of a secret warrant by not updating it. The proposal I heard was to try to circumvent this by making the "canary" something more complicated -- imagine that, every day that you didn't receive a secret warrant, you went to some location in your city, took a photo, and posted it on your webpage. Could a judge then force you to keep doing so? Or even more extreme -- every day that you don't receive a warrant, you run a 10K. Could a judge force you to keep running? Or keep going to work? Or keep self-mutilating in some way? At what point are a person's basic liberties more important than the secrecy of the warrant?

    My guess would be that in any of these instances, no judge would rule that you must keep updating the canary. However, I'd imagine that they might rule that you broke the law by setting up the canary in the first place. Of course, there's an obvious problem with that -- as long as you never get a secret warrant, you clearly couldn't be prosecuted for violating one. So it's a weird situation where an action that is otherwise legal, becomes retroactively illegal upon receiving a secret warrant. It's a bit of a mindfuck.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 17, 2013 @11:19AM (#45448621)

    Gather plenty of like-minded people and go to the politician's office tomorrow and demand the answer to those questions right away.

    Which office?

    The local one that he only does to during elections?

    Or the one in DC that he's hardly ever at for various reasons. And if your group shows up, all of you will be welcomed by Capitol police and other federal agents in riot gear you will be escorted to a "Free Speech Zone". Resist - like don't move - and on the 5 O'Clock news you'll see "Protestors in DC against surveilance arrested for violent behavior." The TV watching zombies watching will just shake their heads over those silly Liberals and their desire for "Civil Liberties" - because we all know, only pinko communist-socialist-anti-capitalist-hippy dirtbags are interested civil liberties. The TV watching zombies only care about issues that they are told to care about - and this issue is disappearing from the zobie tube.

    No thanks to the asshats who resort to violence, those corrupt sub-human people can now justify the use of force.

    Here IS what's working - the Billionaire class is pissed that the Snowden leaks are hurting their income (folks in other countries don't want to buy US products because of the NSA back doors in them. NOW the politicians are listening.

  • Re:Slavery hack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gweihir (88907) on Sunday November 17, 2013 @12:06PM (#45448819)

    In a police state, almost any sort of behavior can be compelled for any amount of time. You underestimate the moral corruption of those with power and vastly overestimate the value of the US constitution. Hint: The US has been operating an extra-legal KZ for quite some time now. They could not do that if the US constitution had any value.

    So just threaten said employees with life in prison for exposing "secrets critical to national security" and you are done.

  • Re:Slavery hack (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ergean (582285) on Sunday November 17, 2013 @02:02PM (#45449499) Journal

    I don't really know the corporate law in US... but what if you say something like - "We will donate 999$ to EFF every time we consider that the rights of our user are in anyway under threat. This is our way of protecting your freedom."

  • Re:Slavery hack (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jdogalt (961241) on Sunday November 17, 2013 @02:20PM (#45449627) Journal

    By announcing the plan ahead of time, you are saying the actions are in direct response to, and a way to covertly signal that a warrant with gag order has been issued. Hell, your announcement may trigger legal action BEFORE a warrant is ever issued.

    While you may have a technical point here, practically it is far less relevant. Those that are on the other side of this are vulnerable to the light such a prosecution would bring to their actions. They know that what they are doing is so completely fundamentally illegal for so many reasons, that even if they are 100% right legally about the situation you describe, their system of injustice could never withstand actual litigation in such a scenario. Sadly, this means that they will result to less above-board tactics of coercion to achieve their ends.

  • by Confusador (1783468) on Monday November 18, 2013 @09:53AM (#45454285)

    It's not quite as simple as requiring you to leave the tag in place. The way the tag is supposed to work is that it tells you a date on which they had not recieved such requests, and if the date gets stale then you can reasonably suppose that they have since that time. The secret court would thus have to not just compel you to leave it, but to also continue updating. This is why Apple's approach is so interesting: it's going to precipitate a court case to determine whether they can be coerced into providing materially false information to the SEC.

Our policy is, when in doubt, do the right thing. -- Roy L. Ash, ex-president, Litton Industries