Apple drops the “warrant canary” from transparency report

In the wake of the change of Apple’s Privacy Policy, and the encryption technology used in iOS 8 that makes it “not technically feasible” for Apple to respond to government warrants for data extraction, GigaOm’s Jeff John Roberts has noted one more crucial change: the disappearance of Apple’s “warrant canary.”

As you might remember, in November 2013, the company included the following sentences in its transparency report: “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.”

It did not mention Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which is the basis for the NSA PRISM program.

Roberts checked the last two transparency reports published by Apple, discovered that that particular statement was gone, and “raised the alarm.”

As other eyes began scanning the documents, ACLU’s Principal Technologist Christopher Soghoian discovered that the company did write that, “To date, Apple has not received any orders for bulk data.”

An online discussion about what that sentence might mean or indirectly point to began, and different theories sprung up, but the rest of the text regarding national security orders – “We report all the national security orders we have received, including orders received under FISA and National Security Letters, in bands of 250” – seems to say that the removal of the “warrant canary” was made because of changes in how US tech companies are allowed to report on government surveillance orders.

“One option allows firms to provide more detail, but they must impose a longer time delay. A second option allows companies to be less specific by lumping those orders together, but the companies can more promptly announce that they received such orders,” Ars Technica’s Cyrus Farivar noted. “Apple appears to have taken the second option.”

Which means that it has received at least one of the secret surveillance requests in the first six months of 2014.

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