The US government is using a secretive court to demand that Reddit allow officials to spy on its users.
Under normal rules of the secretive court, Reddit would never be allowed to acknowledge the request. However, using a legal hack the social news platform has come forward about the request.
Federal agencies have a tool of mass surveillance called a “National Security Letter.” It’s a formal request that’s usually issued by the FBI to an American company seeking information about customers.
The letter is approved by a federal judge sitting on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.
Typically the letter is used to secure the true identities of a company’s users or to obtain data logs from platform activities.
Reddit goes public
Reddit has exposed the request using a “warrant canary” which allows it to say when it has “not” received a National Security Letter.
Here’s how it works. In public statements the company will say “We haven’t received an NSL yet.”
When an NSL occurs, that language disappears, allowing the public to know that an NSL was requested.
Reddit isn’t the only company to use the canary. Tumblr, Pinterest, and even Adobe, have started to include the same notice.
In the company’s recent transparency report the NSL language disappeared.
Because of the nature of the NSL we will likely never know if the US government issued a far reaching request or asked for information only on a single or handful of Reddit users.