In recent times, we have witnessed a number of instances where US government forced major tech companies to provide personal data about their users. Apple has now cleverly employed the ‘warrant canary‘ method to hint that if it ever receives a request under Patriot Act, users should know about it.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act not only empowers the US government to collect any data that may be relevant to an ongoing investigation, it also allows the government to force silence on the entity who is to provide this data. In other words, using Section 215, US government can reach out to companies like Apple, Google, Yahoo and force them to provide user data.
The worst part of this will be that these companies won’t be allowed to make any disclosures stating that they provided any data to the US government. But there still are ways through which the common users can be alerted when a company receives a request under Section 215.
Apple, for instance, has deployed the popular ‘warrant canary’ method in its recent report. In its first report about the information requests it has received so far, the company stated, “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”
Now this is how the clever ‘warrant canary’ method works: if the US government asks Apple to disclose any data under Section 215, Apple wouldn’t be allowed to reveal this particular information request. However, the company will simply stop publishing the statement quoted above, which will instantly alert the users and activists that US government has made its move.