- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2016

Reddit hinted Thursday it may have been secretly ordered to hand over user data to government investigators when it silently removed a “warrant canary” from the popular website’s annual transparency report.

Under U.S. law, companies can’t explicitly say how many times they’ve been served with national security letters, or NSLs, a type of administrative subpoena the FBI can use to compel a company to relinquish information believed relevant to any federal investigation.

Almost always accompanied by a gag order, recipients are often legally restricted from acknowledging they’ve been served with such a request. A resulting workaround used by by websites, including Reddit, is the warrant canary, or notice that specifically states that a company has not received any NSLs.

In its 2014 transparency report, Reddit noted the site “never received a National Security Letter, an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or any other classified request for user information” as of January 2015.

Reddit published its latest transparency report Thursday, and the absence of the canary this time around quickly spawned speculation that an NSL has been served to the website since its last report was released.

“I’ve been advised not to say anything one way or the other,” a Reddit administrator named “spez” wrote in a post Thursday. “Even with the canaries, we’re treading a fine line.”

In its transparency report, Reddit notes that its policy is to notify users “to the extent legally permissible” in the event their data is sought by investigators.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group, reports that over 300,000 NSLs have been issued during the last decade, with more than 56,000 issued in 2004 alone.

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