DOJ could force Apple to hand over iOS source code

From name calling to almost veiled threats. That's how far the tussle between Apple and the FBI over San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook's iPhone has gone. In its most recent legal response to Apple's own legal filing, the Justice Department pretty much implied that it could require Apple to just give it the source code to its iOS mobile platform should the company continue to refuse to give in to the FBI's requests to unlock the iPhone. This was in response to one of Apple's arguments that it would cause an undue burden on the company.

Apple has filed many arguments to oppose a court's order to have it create what is practically a backdoor, though the FBI would never call it that, to iOS so that Farook's iPhone could be unlocked. Aside from the weakening of security itself, Apple is also appealing to legal grounds that prohibit imposing unreasonable burdens on companies. Apple's argument is that creating and maintaining such a weakened version of iOS would require it to divert resources, human, technical, and financial, to the effort.

In its response, the FBI is practically saying it's willing to create that version of iOS itself. In a footnote, however, it says that i cannot do so with access to the operating system's source code. In short, the Department is basically telling the courts that it is willing to remove that undue burden from Apple but only if it will hand over the source code to iOS.

This would be a far worse situation for Apple, of course. To continue the analogy with doors, it would be akin to handing over the entire house (or at least the blueprint) so that the FBI could then make a hole anywhere they want. Technically, it would get the job done, presuming FBI's engineers are that skilled. However, it doesn't really address Apple's other arguments. The backdoor would still be there. But to make it even worse, it will also mean that someone other than Apple outside of its jurisdiction will have a copy of the iOS source code, which is far worse than simply having a compiled binary of iOS.

Even the DOJ knows that this will be less acceptable to Apple, so it is waving it as a threat of last resort, so to speak. Whether or not that will actually fly in court will be another matter. Source code, being copyrighted material, could very well fall under even more complicated laws that could limit what the government can and cannot force Apple to do. Apple could also still argue undue burden, as it will still need to make sure that whatever source code it will be handing over is sanitized and safe for third-party eyes like the FBI.

SOURCE: The Guardian