Canarywatch: fine-grained, high-alert system to detect and reveal secret government snooping


More like tanager-watch.

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" it’s not illegal for them to simply omit mention of secret spying demands once they receive such a warrant"

Are you sure? I am very skeptical about this.

I remember a comment from Moxie Marlinspike somewhere (sorry, can’t find the page anymore) who said that they did not speak to a single lawyer who said this would be legal.

In other words, it would be just as illegal to disclose you have been served, as to stop saying that you have not been served.

That was a comment at a TextSecure server thread. Electronic Frontier Foundation seems to disagree.

Links from here, bottom of the article:

That said, a good codename for a canary watch system would be Kitty. Or maybe MeowMeow…

Depending on how effective this is, I cynically predict the introduction of legislation enabling the various Three-Letter-Agencies to compel communications service providers to actively lie and continue to declare they have not been served with subpoenas when, in fact, they have.

I hope we take that sh!t at least as seriously as TPP.


Thought… what about if the data in question are outside of the US jurisdiction, and/or the technician who can access them to fulfill the request (or can unlock them to access) is not within reach of the US jackbooted thugs? Can a system be designed to require the knowledge of not-US-law-bound individual that it is being accessed by such external entity, who then can publish the fact (e.g. decline the request and publish that it happened) without legal trouble in their own country?

How could that be technically implemented in some elegant way?

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But then your weakness is the relationship between the US and non-US entity. The three letter agencies don’t go after your Mauritius offshore, arms length company. They go after the fact you talk to them in the first place.

Currently the best, best option is to lawyer up like nobodies business. Publish your canaries and stall on the legal front. The only way to fix this is to change the law.

The page’s FAQ explains the mechanics and legal theories underpinning warrant canaries.

Legal theories? We don’t need no steenkin legal theories!

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This is very put-an-ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff stuff. I know that it’s better to have an ambulance there than not while snoopers and the fearful and the corrupt are doing an end-run around democracy to prevent fences at the top of cliffs, but while supporting the canary, be angry that this near-useless canary bullshit even needs to be a thing, and never take your attention off solving the real causes of the problem. The current surveillance state is disgusting.


A pity that they got the analogy wrong. It is not a mine canary but a deadman’s switch or a watchman’s cry. A mine canary is an early warning device. A deadman’s switch and a watchman’s cry are indicators which by the absence of an action indicate a problem.


Though this is a neat way to skirt around the intent of the law. There’s not much that we, the public, can learn from this. All we can know is that at some point before the canary disappeared, the ISP had information requested from it. We don’t know what kind of information, how many times this happened, or anything useful, really.

Same thing with a mine canary: the absence of the canary’s breathing and pulse indicates a problem, namely the presence of toxic gases. The absence of an organization’s daily statement that they haven’t received any warrants indicates the issuance of a warrant.

Or that everybody thought somebody else was feeding the canary.

There was a water shutdown to a city, because the biological indicators in an aquarium died. Turned out that it was not because of contamination but an organization failure starved the fish.

Always consider the false positives.

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Nope. What will happen is a retroactive gag order - serve a warrant that orders that the service provider to refrain from having disclosed its past nonexistence. Or orders the service provider both to refrain from disclosing the warrant’s existence now (by withdrawing the canary) and to tell the truth, so that the provider is in contempt either way. The law doesn’t require logical consistency!

And authoritarian thinking doesn’t require logical consistency, either; in fact, compartmentalization of thinking is one of its hallmarks. The ‘time travel’ and ‘Morton’s Fork’ versions of the warrants will be perfectly accepted by the authoritarians, while the ‘actively lie’ version might not. The trick with the ‘Morton’s Fork’ version is that the argument to the court (and to public opinion) can simply harp on how evil (whichever course of action was taken) was, and ignore the fact that the same argument could be made against (opposite course of action).

It’s just like a traffic cop waving a truck into a ‘no trucks allowed’ lane, and then ticketing the truck for being there. (Happened to my brother. The cop admitted in court to doing just that, and the judge essentially said to my brother, ‘bad day for you that you were there in the first place. Guilty.’)

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