Apple vs the NSO Group: Another Reason to Check Your Terms and Conditions

Apple recently sued the NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance company that allegedly uses Apple products to spy on targets for its government clients. While the NSO Group has tried to portray itself as a company that helps bring criminals to justice and save lives, a closer look at their clients (and the targets of those clients) tells a more insidious story.

According to internal documents from the NSO Group that were leaked to the press, the surveillance company’s clients include the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, and the targets of those clients have included dissidents, activists, and journalists. The documents also revealed that the teenaged children of those targets (some of whom were living in the U.S.) were also surveilled.

The NSO Group’s legal troubles started back in 2019 when Facebook sued the surveillance company for targeting its WhatsApp users. The surveillance company tried to claim foreign sovereign immunity to have the lawsuit dismissed, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected that argument, thereby paving the way for the case to proceed through the courts.

The unanimous decision also paved the way for Apple to file its own lawsuit against the NSO Group. When Apple discovered that the NSO Group had created spyware that allowed it to access data on a target’s Apple product and transmit it back to the government servers without the target knowing about it, Apple took steps to both prevent future attacks, and to bring the NSO Group to justice for this invasion of privacy.

When it turned out that NSO’s engineers had created more than 100 fake Apple IDs to carry out the attack, Apple was able to sue the surveillance company for violating Apple’s Terms and Conditions, to which every user must agree in order to set up their account. One section of Apple’s Terms and Conditions specifies that users’ engagement with Apple and its products and services are to be governed by California state law. That’s the clause that allowed the Silicon Valley company to sue an Israeli surveillance company in U.S. federal court.

Apple’s lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for the time and cost it had to invest to deal with the NSO Group’s alleged violation and abuse of its products.

In addition to offering software updates on all its products after becoming aware of the security threat posed by the NSO Group, Apple has offered free technical, threat intelligence, and engineering help to Citizen Lab and similar organizations that identify and shine a light on digital surveillance. Additionally, the tech giant has committed to donating $10 million, plus damages, to those organizations.

As previously mentioned, this is not the beginning of the NSO Group’s legal troubles, but nor is it likely to be the end. In the same month Apple filed its lawsuit, the Biden administration blacklisted the NSO Group, and another Israeli surveillance company, called Candiru. The ban prevents any American organization from working with the NSO Group, and it is the strongest action the American government has ever taken aimed at the global spyware marketplace. It is also an uncharacteristic breach with Israel, especially since the Israeli government has lobbied the United States to remove the ban.

Breach of contract strikes home with us a Lubin Austermuehle because we’ve built our practice over the years on integrity, commitment and a devotion to an unswerving work ethic focused on commitment, client service and results.  We’re proud to offer the convenience of three offices and availability throughout the Chicagoland area from Oak Park to Lake Forest.  Take advantage of our FREE consultation where we can discuss your specific needs and wishes and our ability to meet them. You can contact us online here or call us on our locally at 630-333-0333.

Contact Information