Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Can The Government Seize Your Computer Through Cash For Clunkers? NO! Here's The Dirt....

So I'm chatting with Mornblade and he, knowing I am a libertarian and a firm defender of digital rights, mentions something that outraged me.  With all due respect to him, though, I decided to ask the Grokbots I hang out with for the straight dope.  I got it, and here's why you don't have to worry about the feds seizing control of your computer or personal data.

Well, first, before I get to where this flies off the rails, let me first mention the rumor for the sake of those unfamiliar.  It concerns the "Cash For Clunkers" program the government has set up to spur car sales and get inefficient vehicles off the road.  To get the credit (or to see if your vehicle qualifies), the dealer and/or you log on to  There's a EULA there, and one of the provisions is that, by agreeing, all data on your computer, nay, the computer itself, becomes property of the US government to do what they want with anytime they want.  So all your personal information, employee data, cat macros, and PR0N belong to Uncle Sam.  This kicked into high gear when Glenn Beck at Faux Fox News mentioned this.

However, Beck got his facts wrong.  Not only was the wording slightly different, but even if it could be argued that that was what the EULA meant, the government could never carry it through.  A lengthly EULA like that that requires a single click-through like that with poor wording and is completely one sided is not "conscionable" as the lawyers say.  That means that no judge in the country, regardless of their agenda, would find for the person who made the EULA in the first place because it is so lopsided and since the only way to do something is to agree to it, it is roughly analogous to extortion.  The feds would be laughed out of court and facing a wrong prosecution lawsuit.  Not only that, but the site in question uses XML.  XML cannot be used to hijack a computer.  You either need the remote procedure calls built into Windows or some other root access for the Linux, BSD, and Mac users.  In other words, the feared results are just a boogeyman -- not real, just imagined, and not worth losing time on.  (All this information, by the way, comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, so you can take it to the bank.)

The only terms of the EULA that would be enforcable would be that you cannot sue the licensor (the feds, in this case) for accessing information on your computer.  The information they access is things like cookies and such, which is necessary for Internet communications -- the pages cannot render without access to things like Java codecs and such on your machine.  But the data that can be accessed is extremely limited.

Now, poorly worded EULA's happen all the time.   I personally suspect the "accident" was left in there, even though everyone knew it wasn't enforcable, just to see if anyone was actually paying attention and what they might be able to slip by.  Whether or not my suspicions are correct, it doesn't matter.  The great lies are, "The check is in the mail," "I won't come in your mouth," and "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."
Tags: computers, did not do the research, digital rights, haven't we suffered enough, important life lessons, infernal gall, news, technology is a beautiful thing
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