When the little birdie dies, you should probably pay attention. So-called warrant canaries—cryptographically signed messages published by tech companies—are designed to flag secret surveillance orders: if the company fails to post a new warrant canary, it may have received a secret government demand for user information.
Earlier this week, several people noticed that the canary for privacy-focused email service Riseup, the most recent of which was published in August, has not been updated, although it may be about time.
Warrant canaries are often used to blow the whistle around National Security Letters; demands for information the FBI can send to companies without obtaining a court order. They can be used for anything though where the company has been legally compelled not to speak out.
As of August 16, Riseup had not received any National Security Letters or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders, according to Riseup's warrant canary published at the time. The email provider had also not placed any backdoors in its hardware or software, nor received any requests to do so, the canary adds.
According to the canary, Riseup planned to update it approximately once per quarter. The fourth quarter of the year started on October 1.
Micah Anderson, the co-founder of Riseup Networks did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
But, after people first started to pick up on the seemingly expired canary and a few days of radio silence, Riseup took to Twitter.
"There is no need for panic," the Riseup account tweeted on Thursday.
"Our systems are fully under our control," and "We will provide additional information at a later date," the tweet added.
"Our prior tweets did not have any hidden subtext," a follow-up tweet reads. Riseup did not flatly state, in any clear terms, that it had not received a government order, nor an accompanying gag order.
"We would rather pull the plug than submit to repressive surveillance by our government, or any government," Riseup wrote in an earlier post on its website.
In March, Reddit removed its own warrant canary from its transparency report. The canary said that Reddit had not received a National Security Letter, "or any other classified request for user information," Reuters reported at the time.
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