Warrant Canaries

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Wed Apr 1 08:32:49 PDT 2015

On 4/1/15 5:26 AM, Andrew wrote:
> Alfie John:
>> On Mon, Mar 30, 2015, at 10:01 AM, Steven Schear wrote:
>>> Looks like Australia has banned use of my idea.
>>> http://boingboing.net/2015/03/26/australia-outlaws-warrant-cana.html
>>> If its true that a man's status can be measured by his enemies.. then
>>> I've taken a position at the top of the cypherpunks heap :)
>> How about the reverse? As the point of canaries is to let people know a
>> warrant is in place while thinking that you're not breaking any laws by
>> telling them (good luck), hypothetically why not just be up front and
>> tell people that a warrant is in place via a tor and a hidden service
>> (let's call it WarrantWatch). Each post is a message from an admin of a
>> website saying that a warrant is in place, with the message being signed
>> via the website's TLS private key for verification.
>> Alfie
> So, you're suggesting that instead of going into a legal 'gray area',
> website operators should simply obviously violate the law and then
> publish a non-repudiable cryptographic proof of their lawbreaking.
> Am I missing something here?  Is the idea to get everyone flouting the
> law and thereby render it ineffectual, or is it just April Fools?
> Andrew

The point of a warrant canary is to communicate in a legal way something that is illegal for you to communicate directly.  That 
involves something like setting laws against each other in some prioritized way or otherwise splitting hairs so that no one can 
technically be prosecuted.  It is a bit of a legal arms race.

You have to find something you cannot be compelled to do or not do. A dead man's switch of some kind where not doing something is 
ambiguous and unassailable.  Can you be required by law to go to Starbucks every morning?  To report or not report on Facebook 
something factual, like you ate Wheaties that morning?  You have a headache?  Something that is protected by a higher priority law, 
although if the First Amendment is trumped by these laws that's going to be difficult.  Perhaps a group of people probabilistically 
do or not do something, but any evidence of collusion would be a problem so they would have to act independently.  Some mechanism 
that relies on someone's thoughts might be sacrosanct.  Visual dwell, polygraph (not that they work at all), etc.

Perhaps every day someone proposes that the warrant canary has triggered, and every day but one someone objects.

Is there or is there not a way to do this legally?  That seems like a gray area, if the First Amendment is trumped, along with other 
legal protections that could apply.
If there is no way to do this legally, what are the ways to dilute the situation as to be effectively legal, i.e. prosecution would 
be unlikely or ineffective?
Since the First Amendment is strained here, reasonable people could conclude that the conflicting law is unconstitutional.  That 
could lead to a sense of responsibility to do the right thing.


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