Reddit may have just disclosed something huge — without actually saying anything.
The self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet” released its latest transparency report on Thursday, sending its notoriously vocal and extremely skeptical users into chaos by hinting National Security Agency officials might be snooping on their classified data.
Every year, the social networking site details how many requests for information it received, along with routine things like copyright takedowns. Now, if Reddit (or any other company for that matter) were to receive any National Security Letters, which is an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or a secret court order for user information, the company cannot outright warn anyone or say anything by law.
Now, in a way to keep everyone in loop, companies have devised a clever way to send out a warning without violating the gag order. For instance, Reddit left a small message at the bottom of its 2014 transparency report, saying: “As of January 29, 2015, Reddit has never received a National Security Letter, an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or any other classified request for user information. If we ever receive such a request, we would seek to let the public know it existed.”
Suspiciously, this statement — known as a “warrant canary” — is missing from the latest report. Its absence suggests rather heavily that Reddit has received a secret court order of some sort since last year and that the U.S. authorities might be using the site to spy on people.
Needless to say, the missing paragraph didn’t go unnoticed by keen-eyed Redditors.
“I’ve been advised not to say anything one way or the other,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, who goes by username spez, told the users once the report went online. “Even with the canaries, we’re treading a fine line. The whole thing is icky.”