Did Apple Keep Or Remove Its Warrant Canary Concerning PATRIOT Act Requests?
from the unclear dept
Last fall, we wrote about how Apple has placed a warrant canary in its first ever Transparency Report, noting:
Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.
In case you haven’t been keeping track, the Section 215 orders are so called “business records” requests. It’s the basis for the orders to Verizon demanding metadata on all calls. It’s not the whole PRISM program, which details more specific requests for content and metadata. A “warrant canary” is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Since these requests come with gag orders, you can get out in front of them by saying ahead of time that you haven’t received one. Then, if it disappears, people have reason to believe that you did get such a request and just can’t talk about it anymore.
Jeff John Roberts, over at GigaOm, has noticed that updates to Apple’s Transparency Reports didn’t appear to have that same warrant canary, leading to speculation that perhaps Apple had received just such a Section 215 order. However, it’s not clear if that’s true. Christopher Soghoian has pointed out that the transparency reports do include some similar language:
To date, Apple has not received any orders for bulk data.
And, contrary to Roberts’ reporting, Section 215 is not the basis for PRISM, which we already knew Apple is a part of, but rather for bulk data collection of “business records.” So if it hasn’t received “any orders for bulk data,” then it still seems likely that it hasn’t received a 215 order, but it’s not entirely clear. As Soghoian notes: “There is a lesson to be learned here: once you post a warrant canary, it needs to stay in the same place and use the same language.”
Of course, it’s possible that Apple is actually signalling something different here. Perhaps it truly has not received a 215 order, but it did get pressured from the DOJ not to use the original warrant canary language. That would explain the change in wording, though would still raise some serious questions about the legality of such a demand from the DOJ.