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Apple's end user licence agreement says that it owns the software

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October 26, 2015

Apple's most recent fight to avoid handing over user data to the United States government has taken an unwelcome turn, with the government claiming in court that Apple's license agreement gives it the right to do what the government tells it.

In a court case being heard by U.S. federal court judge James Orenstein, the government has argued that the Apple end user licence agreement (EULA), which like all similar licenses tells users “you don't own the software, we do”, bypasses users' rights to protect their information.

The U.S. government is therefore asking Apple to bypass its lock screen in compliance with a search warrant in the case, being heard in the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of New York.

Apple has already argued its ability to bypass lock screens is limited. The Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) notes that the device in question is an iPhone 5s running iOS 7 – one of the devices that Apple can easily unlock, so the company tried another tactic to fend off the search warrant.

Apple then told the court that forced compliance would “threaten the trust between Apple and its customers, and substantially tarnish the Apple brand”.

Since Apple CEO Tim Cook has been working diligently to convince users the company takes users' privacy seriously, that argument is probably true. But as the EFF reports, it didn't sway the government that much.

Their argument is that since users have no rights under the EULA – except to use the software in ways only approved by the company – “Apple has such a close connection to the devices it sells that it can be compelled to step in and take control of the device”.

“Apple’s software licensing agreement specifies that iOS 7 software is 'licensed, not sold' and that users are merely granted 'a limited non-exclusive license to use the iOS Software'”, the government's brief states, and that means it can be compelled to bypass the lock screen. Plain and simple.

However, that has placed Apple on a back track. It's true that nearly every EULA in the world is based on the vendor's ongoing ownership of every line of code, but still.

The EFF has posted Apple's response which reads in part that the EULA is merely designed to “limitations on the customers’ use and redistribution of Apple’s software”, and that the license agreement shouldn't be read to “conscript the company into government service”.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out, since about 100 percent of all software companies on the planet have very similar EULAs. We'll keep you posted.

Source: Apple.

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