Is the canary pining for the fjords? June 25, 2013 2:43 PM   Subscribe

In light of the latest news reports, I was curious... Has Metafilter ever received a National Security Letter or a FISA court surveillance warrant? Hundreds of thousands of NSL's and tens of thousands of FISA warrants have been handed out to various websites and organizations over the past decade. A single order can encompass multiple individuals' records. MetaFilter's members include several well known "people of interest" in the security and infosec world, including some who have been targeted with NSL's through other online providers, such as Google. Unfortunately, it is illegal to answer "yes" to this question; however, if a mod would like to answer "no comment" or perhaps just not answer this thread at all, as opposed to giving a flat "no, never", I'm sure we could draw our own conclusions. Also, given that Jessamyn was the creator of the original library warrant canary, does MeFi as a site have a similar warrant canary? If not, did it ever? (See also: "My National Security Letter Gag Order", posted in 2007 and Jessamyn's blog about librarians who successfully challenged a NSL.)
posted by Asparagirl to MetaFilter-Related at 2:43 PM (77 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

"Unfortunately, it is illegal to answer 'yes' to this question; however, if a mod would like to answer 'no comment' or perhaps just not answer this thread at all, as opposed to giving a flat 'no, never', I'm sure we could draw our own conclusions."

I don't think it works this way. This kind of nudge-nudge-wink-wink thing isn't a way to circumvent the law. Not that I agree with the law.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:53 PM on June 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


As far as I know, we have not.

And as maddeningly stupid as this security state stuff is, it sort of puts us in a shitty position to make a "okay, winking's illegal but how about I ask you really, really publicly if you've got something in your eye" entreaty and then leave it up to us to decide just how to blink so that nobody gets the wrong idea.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:53 PM on June 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


The FBI has not been in this thread.

[Watch very closely for the removal of this comment.]
posted by shakespeherian at 2:57 PM on June 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Mr. Haughey also heads a shadowy organization nicknamed "The Cabal" by site members. Its mission and strike capabilities remain unknown. On June 13, Agents S. Adams and T. Lin interviewed 16 non-employee site members via email regarding their purported membership within said organization and were repeatedly rebuffed by all 16, each of whom used the exact (likely memorized) phrase: "There is no cabal." All have been detained, pending further investigation."
posted by zarq at 3:02 PM on June 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


I happen to know that in 2008 [REDACTED] was in fact asked by [REDACTED] of [REDACTED] to provide information on [REDACTED] from users [REDACTED], [REDACTED] and [REDACTED].
posted by MuffinMan at 3:02 PM on June 25, 2013


Did you know that if you stand in front of the bathroom mirror, with the window covered and the lights out, and at exactly midnight of a new moon chant "National Security Administration" three times slowly... a bored voice with a coastal Virginian accent will reply, "Yeah, okay, you're not doing anything. Whatever." And then the next morning you can't tell anybody about it.
posted by ardgedee at 3:05 PM on June 25, 2013 [32 favorites]


Question, do Tom Cruise's lawyers work for the NSA?
posted by shakespeherian at 3:06 PM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know y'all couldn't admit to not being able to put up such a warrant canary, but I guess if you still can maybe it would be a good idea. I'd certainly feel a lot happier with it there.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:06 PM on June 25, 2013


i totally get asking for a canary, but i wonder about the day it comes down - like, the mods won't be able to say anything and people will really want answers. i can only see awfulness happening from that. it seems like internet-wide the only answer is to act as if at any point the government will have all the information connecting everything you do online unless you take steps to keep those connections from being made (and even that's no guarantee).
posted by nadawi at 3:13 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


We can neither confirm nor deny that any or every member of Metafilter has or has not received any or no communication in regard to any particular or general subject or subjects.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:13 PM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]




█████ ████ the other day and █████ █████████ ████ took a quick look but █████ ████ and █████ ████ have never █████ in their lives. While I strive to █████ ████ in the █████ ████ the reality is ███ unfortunately. But! Not all is lost, because █████ ████ █████ ████ █████ ████ is really the ████ forward.

That's █████ about all I can say about ██ right now.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:19 PM on June 25, 2013 [98 favorites]


It would have been better to privately suggest a canary such as a special web page, a la Jessamin's library canary, that announces that the government hasn't been here, which could be deleted in the case that they are.

The only problem with that is that the deletion of the web page wouldn't be the real tell. The arrests of Matt and all of the mods would be.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:21 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just want to say that every time I think of Jessamyn's library canary I get this weird little sunburst of pride in my stomach, halfway between like, walking into your friend's art opening and seeing their giant 8 foot canvas and when you stonewall a cop on some 4th Amendment shit and they begrudgingly admit they have no recourse.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:37 PM on June 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


There is no canary.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:40 PM on June 25, 2013


The canary is a lie.
posted by terrapin at 3:47 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing is Metafilter does have an SCP entry but it's nothing but pages and pages of blank paper.
posted by The Whelk at 3:48 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Come on. You just know THIS is pinned to a detective's wall somewhere.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:48 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but he's a loose cannon, he's over the line, one more slip-up and he's off the force.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:50 PM on June 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Also, he's on-the-edge.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:56 PM on June 25, 2013


But he's about to meet his match...

(cut to a dog wearing Ray-Bans)

(the detective is horrified)

(record scratch sound)

"Whaddya mean, my new partner is a dog?"

(police captain smirks and hands the detective a leash)

"Time to sniff out some leads."

(cut to a montage of the cop and the dog going on a series of misadventures, including but not limited to them paragliding over Denver)

(titlecard: "LARS VON TRIER'S MOST PERSONAL WORK YET")
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:07 PM on June 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Time to sniff out some leads."

YEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:09 PM on June 25, 2013


█████ ████ the other day and █████ █████████ ████ took a quick look but █████ ████ and █████ ████ have never █████ in their lives. While I strive to █████ ████ in the █████ ████ the reality is ███ unfortunately. But! Not all is lost, because █████ ████ █████ ████ █████ ████ is really the ████ forward.

That's █████ about all I can say about ██ right now.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:19 PM on June 25


Well, that puts my mind at ease. This talk of redaction is just rubbish.
posted by Cranberry at 4:28 PM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


What I don't exactly get is why not one big company hasn't just stood up to the government and told their customers what was going on and faced the legal challenges I'm not in a position to ever be served with such a letter, but I'm pretty sure I'd tell the individuals involved and probably blog about it. I'm also pretty much an idiot though.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:28 PM on June 25, 2013


Have you ever received a good old-fashioned subpoena about a member? The constitutional kind?
posted by michaelh at 4:41 PM on June 25, 2013


a-g-e-n-c-y.

it's a-g-e-n-c-y, not administration. and they don't care. okay, they care, but they just arrested the guy who was gonna check those files. they'll get back to you after the holidays. look for a d-r-o-n-e near you, wave and smile. and anyhow, you don't really think they'd tell you if they were looking at this data base, do you? no. in case you forgot, remember, if you are not doing anything wrong you don't have to be afraid. okay, you could be afraid, but it wouldn't do you any good, so what's the point? resistance is futile. try not to get too near the edge of the herd and you should be okay. if they send you to c-u-b-a look me up. we'll have some laughs.
posted by mule98J at 4:49 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I don't exactly get is why not one big company hasn't just stood up to the government and told their customers what was going on

That needs to define what "told" means. For example, Google tells you:

We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google if we have a good-faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the information is reasonably necessary to:
* meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.


So, they told you they'll give your information to the government when legally* asked to do so. Now, the next step would be announcing each and every request. And that would get pretty crazy pretty quickly. "Yesterday, the Rhode Island attorney general requested ABC, the Chilean IRS requested XYZ, the British child protective services requested..."

* "What exactly is legal" is a different discussion.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:51 PM on June 25, 2013


How can we be sure that *this* Matt and Jessamyn and Cortex are the REAL mods, huh? Maybe these so-called "mod" posts were really made by secret serveillance agents, trying to trap us.....
posted by easily confused at 4:57 PM on June 25, 2013


Let no one ever again challenge the deserved preeminence of joke comments on Metafilter.
posted by jamjam at 4:58 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know turning up in dreams is not the moderators' job, and I really appreciate the help they gave me last night.

It was dark, and nobody was around, and I needed to get home but I had no way to call a cab. It was after hours so Metafilter was closed, but I contacted the moderators and Jessamyn turned up to unlock Metafilter (which is a boxy brick building with a single oldish PC). The key is kept under a manhole cover in the middle of the street, in case you ever need to find it yourself. Anyway, I got online and called a cab and everything turned out OK.

Yes, my dream isn't super-relevent to this MeTa post, but (a) I will never have a better place to post it; and (b) it doesn't actually make this thread less surreal.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:01 PM on June 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


Thanks a lot, Joe! That key was the last thing keeping us saf
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:04 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Less is more.
posted by jamjam at 5:06 PM on June 25, 2013


If we have, mathowie has never told any of the rest of us. That is the truth.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:11 PM on June 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


All things considered, nearly everything that users contribute to MetaFilter is out there on the open, public, accessible web, except for passwords and other small bits of personal data on the non-public parts of user profiles. Can't think of anything to be gained there that would be as useful as data from a MeFite's Google or Facebook account.

Of course, there is MeFiMail; I guess it would be possible for some people to use it as a 'private' channel outside of 'normal' email channels with which to plot terrible things, but it's such a small and relatively obscure part of the site, any Snowden-level operatives tasked with watching us probably don't even notice it exists... or, didn't until I pointed it out just now. In the words of Scott Bakula, "Oh boy..."
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:12 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Honestly the only thing I use Mefimail for is talking about Teen Wolf and editing radio drama pitches
posted by The Whelk at 5:14 PM on June 25, 2013


If I don't open the box, the canary gets to keep the doughnut, right?
posted by arcticseal at 5:18 PM on June 25, 2013


The joke is, I've actually hidden the secret to free energy and interstellar travel here on the site, but in order to find it, analysts would have to sort through millions of words of banal crap that I've carefully crafted around it. I did this because I'm a jerk.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:21 PM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]



posted by crossoverman at 5:47 PM on June 25, 2013


Honestly the only thing I use Mefimail for is talking about Teen Wolf and editing radio drama pitches

Speaking of which
posted by shakespeherian at 6:17 PM on June 25, 2013


█████ ████ the other day and █████ █████████ ████ took a quick look but █████ ████ and █████ ████ have never █████ in their lives. While I strive to █████ ████ in the █████ ████ the reality is ███ unfortunately. But! Not all is lost, because █████ ████ █████ ████ █████ ████ is really the ████ forward.

That's █████ about all I can say about ██ right now.


Assuming it's redacted letter for letter:
Felt awry the other day and Nurse Dickinson just took a quick look but small ears and small eyes have never grown in their lives. While I strive to large eyes in the large head the reality is NO! unfortunately. But! Not all is lost, because small eyes small ears large head is really the best road forward.

That's quite about all I can say about it right now.
Let the accusations of outing Nurse Dickinson and her poor ophthalomotolaryngology skills, thereby putting her in peril, begin.
posted by unliteral at 6:32 PM on June 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've noticed that no one, NO ONE ever talks about the pastel suited jackals anymore. Makes you wonder.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:27 PM on June 25, 2013


Instead of asking for a Mefi canary, we should all try to figure out when it disappeared.
posted by humanfont at 7:29 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ok, oldtimers and mods, maybe someone can remember for me: Do you remember this one user who, a few times, posted on MeTa really detailed profiles of members, based all on what they had themselves mentioned in various threads? Because 1) I would be tickled if he were actually a government mole, and 2) those profiles were amazing, and I want to look at them again.
posted by Bugbread at 7:46 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Totally! I remember that but can't think who it was. Let me see if I can dig it up - I'm sure it's in the wiki somewhere.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:48 PM on June 25, 2013


I think that was tamim (example).
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:49 PM on June 25, 2013


Here's another example.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:49 PM on June 25, 2013


Thanks. That helped me track down the comment that made such an impression on me.
posted by Bugbread at 7:55 PM on June 25, 2013


Who needs a security state when we have mods to redact our comments for us? ;)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:20 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you remember this one user who, a few times, posted on MeTa really detailed profiles of members, based all on what they had themselves mentioned in various threads?

Now I'm inclined to work some deliberate misinformation into my commenting history. What do you say, fellow left-handed Polynesian hurling enthusiasts?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:24 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anyone remember a post from years ago about a guy who posted a comment (possibly on Metafilter, probably on another site) from his work computer about how to poison the White House water supply (or some other nefarious thing, possibly relating to offing Cheney) and got a visit at the office from the Secret Service? I tried digging it up and couldn't find it. This was, like 10 years ago or so.
posted by Dasein at 8:29 PM on June 25, 2013


I have no memory of that at all, probably happened elsewhere.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:30 PM on June 25, 2013


I just found it - it was on K5.
posted by Dasein at 8:33 PM on June 25, 2013



Anyone remember a post from years ago about a guy who posted a comment (possibly on Metafilter, probably on another site) from his work computer about how to poison the White House water supply (or some other nefarious thing, possibly relating to offing Cheney) and got a visit at the office from the Secret Service? I tried digging it up and couldn't find it. This was, like 10 years ago or so.


A similar thing happened on Something Awful - the ultra, ultra, ultra-left-wing subforum got shutdown because the Secret Service visited the site owner about threats made against Obama.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:24 PM on June 25, 2013


left-handed Polynesian hurling enthusiasts

Good God. What do you do to the right-handed Polynesians?
posted by davidjmcgee at 1:23 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Take 'em out for drinks?
posted by easily confused at 3:23 AM on June 26, 2013


The way this question is phrased reminds me of those "These entirely functional copies of commercial software are for EDUCATIONAL USE ONLY! NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED! YOU AGREE YOU'RE NOT A MEMBER OF LAW ENFORCEMENT BY CLICKING THIS!" disclaimers that surely kept the owners of warez sites out of trouble.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:04 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also all those 'SMOKE TOBACCO' signs in head shops next to all the bongs and vaporizers.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:08 AM on June 26, 2013


Anyone remember a post from years ago about a guy who posted a comment from his work computer about how to poison the White House water supply (or some other nefarious thing, possibly relating to offing Cheney) and got a visit at the office from the Secret Service?

It was a touch more innocent than that and pretty clearly just idle speculation. The bloke it happened to (who I consider to be an internet friend) wrote it up on K5 afterwards.
posted by ambrosen at 12:58 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was declared a "person of non-interest" during my last job search.
posted by telstar at 1:29 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


> try not to get too near the edge of the herd and you should be okay.

mule98j's observation is very very similar to Bruce Schneier's:

Yes, you can be shut down without recourse, but it's usually those on the edges that are affected.
posted by bukvich at 2:27 PM on June 26, 2013


I was very disappointed when they let me fly. Dammit, I should have been on that list! Now I'm stuck on this stupid island for a month with these obnoxious kids. C'mon NSA, your dropping the ball. I'm seditious as all get out... now where's that damn rum?
posted by cedar at 2:31 PM on June 26, 2013


Way back in September 2001, my job included paginating and laying out the classified pages of the newspaper chain I work for. The only problem with fitting all those odd-sized ads together was there'd always be little gaps: I filled those with any of a variety of longer or shorter quotes; and because of our print schedule, I always had to have each weekly paper's pages done by Monday.

One quote I liked to use was very short, just "Assassins!" from Arturo Toscanini to his orchestra --- and I always made sure to put that all in: ' "Assassins!" by conductor Arturo Toscanini, to his orchestra'.

The very last time I used that particular quote was in the classified pages I assembled on September 10, 2001: those papers were delivered to our customers on September 12, the day after 9-11, and the day BEFORE two FBI agents came to the office looking for whoever put in what they considered a possibly-terrorist-related advertisement.

My boss still says she should have had them arrest me.
posted by easily confused at 4:51 PM on June 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


What I don't exactly get is why not one big company hasn't just stood up to the government and told their customers what was going on and faced the legal challenges

LOL! Why would they? They would lose money and get in trouble. That's not the goal of any "big company," I'm afraid.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:13 PM on June 26, 2013


What do you say, fellow left-handed Polynesian hurling enthusiasts?

Seán Óg? Is that you?
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:20 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for canaries in the sense of "This establishment has never received a (whatever_order); watch carefully for the removal of this statement," I am quite sure that that type of artifice would provide no defense whatsoever to the establishment operating it.

If the branch of the government which issued the (whatever_order) wanted to punish the recipient for disclosing it, I do not believe there would be any legal distinction between disclosure in the form of posting something to the effect of "hey we received a (whatever_order), thought you might want to know," and removing a "we have never received a (whatever_order)" canary, as long as $government_branch has a record (screenshot, photograph, etc) of the canary's past presence and current/future absence.

It's still a nice idea though, iff the establishment is willing to remove the canary despite the (probably quite dire) consequences of doing so.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:20 PM on June 26, 2013


What I don't exactly get is why not one big company hasn't just stood up to the government and told their customers what was going on

there is very little that goes on in the government that does not have some level of approval from big companies

except, of course, taxes and mandated treatment of customers and employees

but they're working on it
posted by pyramid termite at 5:22 PM on June 26, 2013


Good God. What do you do to the right-handed Polynesians?

Take 'em out for drinks?

that's a good way to turn them into no-handed hurlers
posted by pyramid termite at 5:24 PM on June 26, 2013


I think we'll be safe here at MeFi until the phrase "poison the white house water supply" makes one of those little bells at the NSA building go ding.
posted by mule98J at 5:48 PM on June 26, 2013


*DING*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:50 PM on June 26, 2013


Don't, please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:10 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was a weird little round building near where I grew up as a little kid. I never knew what it was or what it was for. This drove me nuts for decades.

Days before 9-11, I discovered to my delight that the weird little round building has a name and a purpose. It is a VORTAC. It is used for airplane navigation. I spent quite a bit of time on 9-9 and 9-10 on the FAA and other related websites learning all about them and that one in particular.

On 9-12, I picked my kids up from my Mom's house. I was followed over 10 miles home by a beige sedan with two guys in dark suits and dark sunglasses all the way to the cul-de-sac where I live, which is a statistically unlikely drive. They parked for a few minutes in front of a house down the street and then left without getting out of the car.

Nothing came of it but that scared the hell out of me.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:07 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Hurling enthusiasts"? Well, it's a short step across the North Channel from hurling to shinty, and from there to caber tossing, and then just a linguistic hop from cabers to cabals, Cablegate, and SABER weather control. Also, SABR metrics and the travel reservations program Sabre. So just what are you trying to say, here? Out with it.
posted by gingerest at 7:12 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I clicked on the vortac link, now i'm on another f'n list somewhere.
posted by iamabot at 7:36 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is no obecalp.
posted by telstar at 12:26 AM on June 27, 2013


> nearly everything that users contribute to MetaFilter is out there on the open, public accessible web

Except for the IPs of posters. scarabic isn't "hiding" but plenty of posts come from accounts with profiles lacking links to other web activity and personally identifiable information.

I'm not thinking of NSLetters so much, but simple warrants, subpoenas and law enforcement requests. There's no requirement for MeFi to keep those secret, but I haven't seen a transparency report here like Google's.

Furthermore, the privacy policy doesn't guarantee user privacy "if we are contacted by law enforcement". That doesn't take the stronger option that only legally binding requests will be honored.

And yes, MeFi Mail is certainly something I can imagine coming up in discovery.

Circumstantial cases put people in prison for life and affect custody arrangements.

NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED!
Yep, and I Am Not A Lawyer
posted by morganw at 3:59 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Posted today at the New Yorker: WHAT IT’S LIKE TO GET A NATIONAL-SECURITY LETTER, which is about Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, who is one of the only people in the country to get a NSL, fight it, and win (and therefore be able to talk about what it's like):
"[The Internet Archive's lawyers] were sort of grim: “Let’s lock the doors, you’ll be the only person who hears about this.” They said that, according to the law, you have to give them the information they want, and you can only talk to people such that you can fulfill this request. Other than that, there’s nothing else you can do, and then you can’t ever mention it to anybody, ever.

So I asked, “Can I bring this up with my board?” And the answer is no. Could I discuss it with my wife? The answer is no, not without risking being put in prison for years...

Did you tell your wife?

No! I couldn’t!

And is she now going, “What’s wrong? Why are you white as a sheet?”

I did go home that night and over dinner with my family, I said, “Ask me what it was I did today, and remember my answer.” So my son, who was, I don’t know, nine, or something like that, asked me, “Daddy, what did you do today?” And I said, “I can’t tell you.” That was the only thing I said, and then months and months and months went by.
So I suppose that's what a "dinner table canary" looks like.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:21 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know about this, but I'm really proud of Jessamyn, I had no idea!
posted by corb at 9:57 AM on June 30, 2013


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