Force Apple engineers to unlock terrorist’s iPhone? ‘Good luck with that’

Apple’s fight with the FBI over a dead terrorist’s iPhone has entered the realm of personal morality and principle. Engineers at the tech giant may refuse to help unlock San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone if Apple loses its court battle against the feds, the New York Times reported.

Apple has “an independent culture and a rebellious one,” venture capitalist and former Apple engineering manager Jean-Louis Gassée told the paper. “If the government tries to compel testimony or action from these engineers, good luck with that.”

The paper said a half-dozen current and former Apple employees said workers at the company have been discussing how to proceed should Apple lose the case. “Some say they may balk at the work, while others may even quit their high-paying jobs rather than undermine the security of the software they have already created,” the article said.

Forcing a computer scientist to help attack the security of users’ devices — as Apple claims creation of the FBI’s sought-after back door would do — is tantamount to asking a doctor to violate the Hippocratic Oath in the most egregious way possible, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the paper. “In the hierarchy of civil disobedience, a computer scientist asked to place users at risk has the strongest claim that professional obligations prevent compliance,” Rotenberg said. “This is like asking a doctor to administer a lethal drug.”

Engineers could be asked not only to undo their own security innovations, but to violate their personal principles, the Times article suggested. And standing up to Uncle Sam might not be a bad career move. “If someone attempts to force them to work on something that’s outside their personal values, they can expect to find a position that’s a better fit somewhere else,” Window Snyder, head security officer at Internet content delivery startup Fastly and a former Apple senior product manager, told the paper.

The article noted that Apple engineers possess highly sought-after skills, and hiring those who quit over the FBI case could be a “badge of honor” for companies sharing Apple’s view on the federal government’s push against encryption.


Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6 Plus S  in San Francisco in September 2015. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Alan Brooks

    Like asking a doctor to inject a lethal drug? You’ve got to be kidding. These wonderkinder need to grow up.

    • Speakerofthe House

      No, who needs to “grow up” are the Nazis in what used to be a government of We the People. If you are one of those with “nothing to hide”, how about posting your SSN and a couple of credit card numbers…

      • Jarhead2

        We are not talking about the average citizen. We are talking about terrorists that committed a terrorist act. Putting the two groups into the same equation is idiotic or do Apple fan boys think even terrorists need protection?

        • Osama bin Login

          If they can break into the terrorist’s phone, they can break into any other phone. If they create the information on how to break into an iPhone, that info will get to hackers soon enough – it’s worth $millions to the apple employee who spills the beans. Then, the victims will be average citizens.

          Experience has shown that any security leak, will eventually be found and exploited for breakins, if possible. Current best practice is to seal up every single possible leak, in many cases being ultra-paranoid. This will successfully limit the number of breakins a company will suffer.

          You’ll notice that websites now will not send you your password if you forget it. And in fact, there’s no way for anybody at the company to discover your password – special algorithm, your actual password is not kept. Because, back in the days when it was kept, even on supposedly “secure” computers, hackers would get in and steal everybody’s password in a single trip. This is exactly what happened to Adobe recently, because decoding passwords was possible.

          The most safe way to prevent the wrong person from doing X, is to make it impossible for ANYBODY to do X. The pointy-haired bosses at the FBI want everybody to be breakable.

      • Irmajnordquist

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    • Osama bin Login

      How about this. From now on, every house in America must install a back door, and the only people who have the skeleton key are the police. DON’T WORRY, incidents of breaking into police headquarters don’t happen often. AND, incidents of police breaking into houses and shooting people, well, they don’t happen often, either.

      But if somebody does get the skeleton key, they can rob and burgle to their heart’s content. It’ll be a long time before everybody can change their locks, so that skeleton key doesn’t work and a different one works. Meanwhile, hey, does this skeleton key work all across the county? The State?

      In this case, it’s computers. So speed up everything by 1000x or 1,000,000 times. By the time you get home from a hard day’s work, your checking account and your brokerage account will be drained. Billion-dollar mergers and other business deals, not to mention corporate profits, will be discovered by hackers who now know which stocks to buy or sell – they can trade a stock even when the company officers can’t.

      It’s not just your phone. We’re now at the point where pretty much the only companies that haven’t been cyberattacked are the companies that are only a month old – not enough time yet. And the NSA wants to put a big target on every digital device?

  • RussellL

    Ask any programmer, all Apple has to do is modify a few lines of code to disable the erase feature after 10 failed attempts.

    A simple example,
    instead of “IF failed attempts = 10, THEN erase”
    change it to “IF failed attempts = 10, THEN failed attempts = 0”

    • Speakerofthe House

      It’s obvious you aren’t a programmer. If you were, you would know that using exact equality isn’t a good idea. And that’s just a start…

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