According to a new report from The New York Times, a number of Apple engineers would rather quit their jobs than comply with a court order compelling the creation of a backdoor in iOS.
If enough of the company’s employees participate in the action, it could make the FBI’s goal nearly impossible to achieve.
Apple is at the center of a contentious debate over digital encryption that pits user privacy and civil rights against national security. The company was in February ordered by a federal magistrate judge to help the FBI unlock an iPhone linked to San Bernardino terror suspect Syed Rizwan Farook. Fulfilling the order entails the creation of an iOS variant vulnerable to brute-force attacks, a forensics tool needed to bypass Farook’s four-digit passcode.
Apple has so far resisted government overtures for hardware access, saying the mere existence of a software workaround inherently weakens iOS encryption. Further, a Department of Justice win could set dangerous precedent, as law enforcement agencies would be able to leverage the same arguments for future data access operations.
In one recent filing, Apple estimated that creating the proposed “GovtOS” would represent between two and four weeks work for six to ten engineers, assuming a consistent and motivated workforce. Apple did not share who exactly would be tapped to work on the project, but today’s report said sources have guesses as to likely candidates.
From the beginning, Apple has insisted that coding a security-breaking version of iOS is fundamentally opposed to the companies values, arguing that the compelled creation of that software violates the company’s constitutional rights. Individual employees could appeal to similar logic, casting the refusal to code as an act of civil disobedience.