A report in the New York Times suggests that if US courts compel Apple to create an insecure OS to help the FBI crack the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone, the engineers tasked with building the software may quit or shirk their duties instead of complying with the judicial order.
It isn’t clear if the government is ready for this sort of spanner in the works. In a court filing, Apple said that it would require between six and 10 engineers to create what it’s calling ‘GovtOS’, all of whom would have to be drawn together from different departments like coding, compliance and testing.
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So what happens if Apple employees refuse to play ball?
Former federal prosecutor Joseph DeMarco told the New York Times, “If — and this is a big if — every engineer at Apple who could write the code quit and, also a big if, Apple could demonstrate that this happened to the court’s satisfaction, then Apple could not comply and would not have to.”
DeMarco adds that if If they refused to code the OS rather than quit, Apple could be held in contempt of court. Riana Pfefferkorn of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society said that Apple could face daily fines if a judge was of the opinion that it was deliberately delaying compliance.
While this scenario may be years away, it’s scary to think about how the outcome of such a divisive case could boil down to the beliefs and values of a handful of employees, and how they’d be tested with the whole world watching.
The company has previously argued that being forced to create a backdoored iOS would be a violation of its constitutional rights. We’ll have to wait and see how well that holds up in court.
➤ Apple encryption engineers, if ordered to unlock iPhone, might resist [The New York Times]