What is a warrant canary and why you should care

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After Snowden blew the lid off of the NSA and its activity there was a great hue and cry over why the government agency, which was meant to monitor foreign elements, was keeping a tighter check on citizens at home.

In the aftermath of the debacle people began looking for security and privacy oriented solutions to keep their data safe. Many privacy focused web solutions popped up thereafter offering people control over where their data ended up, and essentially trying to create platforms that were not as easy to crack. This was important for many since the digital world means almost every single private aspects of our lives is connected to something, somewhere, online. And despite the fact that people choose to plug-in their lives online, it doesn’t mean that their personal details should be accessible to anyone other than the people they choose to trust them with.

However, there’s only such a small extent to which the government can be restricted. This is where the warrant canary comes in. SpiderOak is a new cloud solution, and one that won’t be playing by the NSA’s rules. They’ve implemented a warrant canary to ease their users just a tad bit. What does this mean? If the government tries to tamper with their data without an official warrant they’ll be barred, however, in the event that an official organization shows up with a legal warrant and gag order the company cannot do anything but comply. In this case they will make use of a warrant canary.

The company can be held liable if they say a word to their users about the data they are being pushed to handover secretly, so what they choose to do is say absolutely nothing except that things aren’t cool anymore. The term comes from the canaries that would chirp away as a signal for miners that everything is okay. If the canaries stopped making sounds it meant that the miners would have to worry about carbon monoxide.

SpiderOaks has joined ranks with a whole bunch of other tech giants including Tumblr, Apple and Pinterest by implementing this system. At the end of every six-month period they plan to let their users know that there isn’t a problem with the message “All clear!” If the message never comes then users should know that there is trouble. While some people may think six months is a long time to hold off on a signal, the company has calculated that this is the amount of time it will take before they can find out whether the request is legitimate and if they can fight it off.

The NSA's job is getting tougher by the day with people finding new avenues with which they can keep their data safe. SpiderOak is just one more name in the fight for keeping data and information privacy and secure. It remains to be seen whether the warrant canary will actually crack as a method and stop producing the results that it has thus far.

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