When the government comes for your data, tech companies can’t always tell you. But thanks to a legal loophole, companies can say if they haven’t had a visit yet.
That’s opened up an interesting clause that allows companies to silently warn customers when the government turns up to secretly raid its stash of customer data without violating a gag order it. Under U.S. freedom of speech laws, companies can publicly say that “the government has not been here” when there has been no demand for data, but they are allowed to remove statements when a warrant comes in as a warning shot to anyone who pays attention.
These so-called “warrant canaries” — named for the poor canary down the mine that dies when there’s gas that humans can’t detect — are a key transparency tool that predominantly privacy-focused companies use to keep their customers aware of the goings-on behind the scenes.
Where companies have abandoned their canaries or caved to legal pressure, Cloudflare is bucking the trend.
The networking and content delivery network giant said in a blog post this week that it’s expanding the transparency reports to include more canaries.
To date, the company:
- has never turned over their SSL keys or customers’ SSL keys to anyone;
- has never installed any law enforcement software or equipment anywhere on their network;
- has never terminated a customer or taken down content due to political pressure;
- has never provided any law enforcement organization a feed of customers’ content transiting their network.
Those key points are critical to the company’s business. A government demand for SSL keys and installing intercept equipment on its network would allow investigators unprecedented access to a customer’s communications and data, and undermine the company’s security. A similar demand led to Ladar Levison shutting down his email service Lavabit when they sought the keys to obtain information on whistleblower Edward Snowden, who used the service.
Now Cloudflare’s warrant canaries will include:
- Cloudflare has never modified customer content at the request of law enforcement or another third party.
- Cloudflare has never modified the intended destination of DNS responses at the request of law enforcement or another third party.
- Cloudflare has never weakened, compromised, or subverted any of its encryption at the request of law enforcement or another third party.
It has also expanded and replaced its first canary to confirm that the company “has never turned over our encryption or authentication keys or our customers’ encryption or authentication keys to anyone.”
Cloudflare said that if it were ever asked to do any of the above, the company would “exhaust all legal remedies” to protect customer data, and remove the statements from its site.
The networking and content delivery network is one of a handful of major companies that have used warrant canaries over the years. Following reports that the National Security Agency was vacuuming up the call records from the major telecom giants in bulk, Apple included a statement in its most recent transparency reports noting that the company has to date “not received any orders for bulk data.” Reddit removed its warrant canary in 2015, indicating that it had received a national security order it wasn’t permitted to disclose.
Cloudflare’s expanded canaries were included in the company’s latest transparency report, out this week.
According to its latest figures covering the second half of 2018, Cloudflare responded to just seven subpoenas of the 19 requests, affecting 12 accounts and 309 domains. The company also responded to 44 court orders of the 55 requests, affecting 134 accounts and 19,265 domains.
The company received between 0-249 national security requests for the duration, and didn’t process any wiretap or foreign government requests for the duration.