Last week, Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft employee living in Lebanon, was arrested on charges that he had sold the Windows 8 source code in retaliation for a bad performance review. What was most shocking about the arrest was the means by which Microsoft gathered evidence pinning the crime on Kibkalo: they went into his personal Hotmail account and read his email to figure out it was him, without a court order to do so.
Apple would never do something like that by reading iCloud email without a court order, right? It’s not that simple, actually. Like Hotmail, Yahoo, and other webmail providers, iCloud’s terms of service specify that Apple reserves the right to read your email at any time.
Courtesy of Fortune, here is the relevant section of Apple’s iCloud agreement.
You acknowledge and agree that Apple may, without liability to you, access, use, preserve and/or disclose your Account information and Content to law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party, as Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate, if legally required to do so or if we have a good faith belief that such access, use, disclosure, or preservation is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process or request; (b) enforce this Agreement, including investigation of any potential violation thereof; (c) detect, prevent or otherwise address security, fraud or technical issues; or (d) protect the rights, property or safety of Apple, its users, a third party, or the public as required or permitted by law.
So would Apple read your iCloud email if it was in their best interests to do so? Apple has gone to lengths to protect user privacy from the government, even going so far as to build a warrant canary into its future transparency reports so people can know if they have been compelled to give user information to the federal government and simultaneously beenn put under a gag order from talking about it. That said, all that means is Apple wants to protect you from the government: it doesn’t necessarily mean the company wants to protect your data from Apple itself.