Compelling Apple to break its own security measures may not be as simple as it sounds. A new New York Times report suggests that even if the company loses its court fight and is legally compelled to produce security-breaking software, the employees tasked with creating the software may quit or simply stop working rather than comply with the court order. If enough of the company's employees participate in the action, it could make the FBI's goal nearly impossible to achieve.
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. But if any significant portion of that team made a conscious effort to stymy the project, it's easy to imagine those efforts stretching on indefinitely. If the project is delayed enough, the FBI could be forced to requisition Apple's source code and signing keys so as to undertake the work itself, potentially raising even more legal issues.
Rebellious employees would be supported by many of the arguments Apple has made in the case so far. 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.
Such a scenario would be years away, if it comes to pass at all. The case is still being argued in district court, and will likely be argued again in appeals court and potentially even the Supreme Court before a final order is handed down. It's also entirely likely that Congress will take action before a final verdict is reached, complicating the issue even further. But if Apple loses in both the courts and Congress, today's report suggests the fallout could have a profound effect on the company's workforce.