A report from Thursday indicates that some high-level Apple employees would rather walk away form their jobs rather than comply with a court order forcing them to create a new “backdoor-handy” version of iOS for use by the FBI in its investigation into the San Bernardino tragedy.
Citing “more than a half-dozen” current and former Apple employees, The New York Times reports software engineers and executives at the company would resist law enforcement requests to undermine existing iOS encryption.
“It’s an independent culture and a rebellious one,” said former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée. “If the government tries to compel testimony or action from these engineers, good luck with that.”
They include an engineer who developed software for the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. That engineer previously worked at an aerospace company. Another is a senior quality-assurance engineer who is described as an expert “bug catcher” with experience testing Apple products all the way back to the iPod. A third likely employee specializes in security architecture for the operating systems powering the iPhone, Mac and Apple TV.
Apple is currently embroiled in a contentious battle over digital encryption, pitting user privacy rights against national security. A federal magistrate judge in February ordered the company to assist the FBI in unlocking an iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Complying with that order would force the Cupertino firm to create a new variation of iOS that would allow brute-force attacks to bypass the four digit passcode used by Farook to lock his iPhone.
Apple has resisted the order, and other federal efforts to allow access to similar devices, stressing that creating such a “backdoor” would set a dangerous legal precedent, allowing law enforcement agencies the leverage needed to use the same arguments in similar cases. The company also has expressed concern that such a modified version of iOS could end up in the hands of the bad guys, allowing them the same access to users’ devices, creating a whole new crisis over user privacy.
While Apple employees may refuse to assist the government by writing the new “GovtOS,” the Department of Justice says it has legal standing to demand the company turn over iOS source code and signing keys if Apple doesn’t willingly cooperate. So at best, the employees’ resistance may merely delay the unlocking of the iPhone, and the eventual release of the new OS into the wild.