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Reddit drops hint on national security snooping

A certain something is conspicuously missing as the popular community site issues a transparency report on government requests for information.

If a National Security Letter inquired about Reddit's mascot, Reddit would not be able to tell us.

Sometimes it's not what you say that matters, but what you don't say.

That seems to be the case with the latest transparency report from the popular community site Reddit. Released Thursday, the report documents the number of requests the website received in 2015 from governments around the world seeking information on users or the removal of content, as well as how often it was legally required to act on those requests.

The requests can include subpoenas, court orders and search warrants.

What the report did not include was a paragraph similar to one Reddit wrote in its 2014 report stating explicitly that it had not received any National Security Letters or similar classified requests for information. In other words, by declining to say it did not receive any such request, the implication is that surely it must have.

That paragraph is what's known as a "warrant canary," because its demise functions as a warning sign that government snooping may have been stepped up a notch. National Security Letters typically include a gag order saying that the recipient cannot publicly acknowledge their issuance.

The hint was not lost on some of the site's users. "It sounds like reddit has received a National Security Letter [sometime] since January 29, 2015," the date of the previous report, wrote user CarrollQuigley.

Reddit, which last month logged more than 231 million visitors, has been pushing the US government to ease the restraints it imposes on what can be revealed about its requests for information, as have other Internet groups and tech companies including Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter. Many of those companies issue their own transparency reports.

The Reddit administrator who posted the new report Thursday acknowledged the delicacy of the situation.

"Even with the canaries, we're treading a fine line," wrote the administrator, who goes by the handle spez. And this: "I've been advised not to say anything one way or the other."

Reddit did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.