Does Stack Exchange report on the numbers of requests and orders it receives from law enforcement agencies, as Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo do?

  • 6
    +1. For DMCA takedowns, it's planned: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/177269/… though I guess those come from private firms, not government agencies.
    – Frank
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 2:17
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    Since terrorists are sharing secret messages through their code examples?
    – spring
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 2:45
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    @skinny I used to think the same way, but with this recent event businessinsider.com/silk-road-stack-overflow-post-2013-10 the question gains some real-world value
    – Pekka
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 3:09
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    That's what I had in mind, @Pekka.
    – Gaia
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 3:10
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    @perhapsPekka - I sit corrected.
    – spring
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 7:41
  • What are they going to request? Anyone can see all your answers, questions and comments, and any details you chose to make available. The only things not accessible are things like flags, which don't really help anyone, deleted content, which were public at some stage (and there are sites that specialize in storing old content from websites, not sure how much of SO is on there), and your e-mail address, which is easy enough to keep anonymous (to a reasonable extent). Well, maybe your IP would be useful. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 8:55
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    I'll have an official response to this soon-ish, as I need for NY to wake up.
    – user50049
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 9:03
  • @perhapsPekka: I'm sorry, but I fail to see how this gains "real world value" by knowing if SE is forwarding information when they receive a warrant/subpoena from the FBI (who's not?). ... Seeing the DMCA takedowns on the other hand, that would be interesting. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 12:34
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    @Dukeling There is a set of private data (which includes email address(es) and authentication accounts, IP addresses and access logs) that is kept in the database, for at least some limited time, and which should be considered sensitive personal data. SE policy has been clear so far that no one but SE developers can access this information, but this policy should be made clearer as to what sort of legal muscle a government agency needs to access it, whether there's a record of such access, and whether the things that led to Lavabit's demise could happen.
    – E.P.
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 12:52

2 Answers 2


BAD: I don't think we can do this in a way that is useful and honest.

GOOD: The reason that's the case is that we get so few a year that even a single request that we're not legally allowed to reveal the existence of would result in us giving you fundamentally wrong numbers.

TRYING TO SHOW I'M NOT BEING WEASELLY: I'm happy to share right now, because I'm not prohibited from being totally honest: In the last year, including a sealed inquiry - and I'm comfortable acknowledging its existence because it's pretty public - I think we've had exactly 1.

But I don't want to promise we'll keep sharing these, because our low numbers mean that when even one of ours isn't legally sharable, I know we'll be giving you numbers that are insanely off (on a percent basis), and I'd rather be upfront now about our legal limits than be misleading later.

Some thoughts on the companies above:

  • I support any effort to be more transparent, but those numbers don't really represent what everyone is terrified of (broad NSA intrusions)

  • In all cases, it seems like what they're disclosing obviously excludes the NSA type requests we're all really disturbed by. I'm speculating, but the highest account/request ratios on the facebook page are about 2:1 - those are NOT "show us all your metadata" requests; they are "We need to find Grandpa now because he is [off his meds / running a drug cartel]" requests

  • Assuming these are primarily targeted requests, the large number of them that these companies get makes it easy for them to provide accurate, aggregate data even if some number are under seals (grand jury subpoena's etc.) that prohibit even revealing that they exist

One semi-related note on DMCA notices As of now, we do publicize DMCA requests - we started uploading them a while back, but had some technical issues with Chilling Effects showing them. You should see any new ones going forward though.

  • It's hard for me to comment, as I'm not clear on how are "National Security Letters" different from "national security orders"? You can disclose "the aggregate volume of National Security Letters" but not the "type and volume of any national security orders". (tinyurl.com/bl5sgwm). PS Here is what has been released so far: tinyurl.com/pjtonwx.
    – Gaia
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 22:23
  • Well, for most things the FBI might as well just consult a data dump or the data explorer :) And if we want more excitement, we could still reconsider the oft-requested private messaging functionality...
    – balpha StaffMod
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 19:54

Maybe it would be good to implement a warrant canary.

"To date, we have had no requests, check back to see if this notice disappears"

UPDATE: doesn't look like your request is possible: US spy court says internet firms can't report surveillance requests

UPDATE 2: seems that it has happened at least once (emphasis mine):

One slip up was a posting on programmer Q&A site Stack Overflow under the name Ross Ulbricht that asked "How can I connect to a Tor hidden service using curl in php?", before changing the account name to "Frosty". A subpoena by the FBI showed the original account name.

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    Little unclear; where does this notice go, and what does it mean? Especially since we know there have been requests.
    – user206222
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 6:08
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    @Emrakul, from what I recall it was a librarian's ingenious workaround to not being allowed to tell people if they'd received requests. How do we know there have been requests? (Unless you're just referring to DMCA ones?)
    – Benjol
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 6:10
  • Yeah, I'm just referring to DMCA requests. Won't this just hide the truth, though?
    – user206222
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 6:12
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    There's no way that there have never been any requests. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 6:27
  • @DavidRobinson, why?
    – Benjol
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 6:40
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    I know of at least three independent requests off the top of my head.
    – user206222
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 7:05
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    The Guardian has an article by Cory Doctorow detailing this idea. I've seen it mentioned at least one other place, but can't remember where.
    – jscs
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 7:33
  • @Emrakul: DMCA letters aren't law enforcement agency requests, and don't come with gag orders like National Security Letters do. The recipient is free to talk about them; they not really an issue here.
    – jscs
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 7:34
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    @Josh, thanks, that was it. Her name was/is Jessamyn West
    – Benjol
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 7:53
  • @TomBrossman, thanks, that's exactly it!
    – Benjol
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 5:40

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