By day, a cybersecurity duo keeps their fellow reporters safe and secure from prying eyes. By night, they're giving companies the final word when they're under a government gag order.
A new app, developed by director of security Morgan Marquis-Boire and technologist Micah Lee at First Look Media -- the media organization behind The Intercept, which continues to publish Edward Snowden documents -- allows companies to publicly acknowledge whether or not they have received a secret government demand for data.
AutoCanary builds at the touch of a button a "warrant canary," a public statement that asserts that a top-secret data demand has not been received, published in anticipation of receiving such an order. Once a warrant canary is removed, the notice suggests one has been received but doesn't violate the gag order because nothing was explicitly said.
In a post Wednesday, Marquis-Boire confirmed that First Look had "not been compelled" to comply with a secret government order, like a gag order.
"Our warrant canary lets the public know that we have not received a secret subpoena, warrant or other legal compulsion that we are prohibited from disclosing," the post read. "In the event the company is issued such a legal process, our plan is to not renew the canary statement."
But as telling as they can be, warrant canaries are not perfect. And sometimes, despite their best intentions, they can be wrongly issued -- leading to panic when they are misread.
Marquis-Boire and Lee's effort aims to standardize that so it's almost impossible to get it wrong.
The project comes at a potentially tumultuous time for free speech watchers. Although there's no law in effect to prevent warrant canaries from being used, Twitter is currently fighting the US government in the courts to have them protected as free speech under the First Amendment.