Warrant Canary, from Libraries to Apple. Libraries as Example Again

Tech companies follow an example set by libraries is using “warrant canaries” in data surveillance transparency.

A common thread in the future of libraries is library as canary in the coalmine. Or for an analogy with a happier ending for the canary, library as test and example. This usually applies to how change pressures are faced but it also applies to the examples that libraries provide in reaction to cultural and political pressures.

I learned about warrant canaries being used by tech companies from the daily APM Marketplace Tech podcast. Some technology companies are employing a “Warrant Canary,” a message indicating that at this time the company has not faced requests from law enforcement for information, in attempts at data transparency.
If we look back to libraries’ response to government surveillance during the war on terror we will remember that some libraries posted signs on their doors with messages such as, ‘the authorities have not visited and requested your info,’ with the assumption that the sign being removed is indication of otherwise.

As part of some major tech companies’ transparency efforts post Edward Snowden, some like Apple are posting digital signs in the same vein on their websites because whereas they can be compelled to be silent about information requests they cannot as easily be compelled to lie about it.

Other approaches have been proposed including a Canary Meta-tag and Cory Doctorow’s dead-man’s switch.

I cannot advocate for this approach. I simply point out this as a possible example for how libraries provide examples.

More info:

Libraries have again served as test case and example in a tension point within our culturural shifts.

– Joe Murphy Librarian

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