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The FBI and Fighting Over the Apple

I was wondering how this would work:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/technology/apple-encryption-engineers-if-ordered-to-unlock-iphone-might-resist.html

Short version: Apple engineers are murmuring among themselves that there's no way in hell they'll spend weeks working for the FBI to create a code that'll destroy iPhone security.  A number have said they'll quit first.  And since this kind of engineer can basically walk into any computer company and name a price, finding a new paycheck isn't any kind of problem.

I kind of thought something like this might happen.  I mean, the government might--MIGHT--be able to force Apple into complying iwth its demand, but how can you force people to create computer code that doesn't yet exist?  How would you enforce it?  If the engineers quit and Apple said, "Sorry--we have no one qualified to fuflill the court order. You may as well order us to fly--all the ordering in the world can't force us to do the impossible."

How would the government know Apple can't do it?

Or, even more simply, how would the government know if the engineers worked and worked and worked and nothing came of it?

"Hey!" says the FBI.  "It's been two months!  Where's that code?"

"Sorry," says the engineer.  "We're still working on it.  Lots of bugs, you know."

"When will it be ready?"

Engineer shrugs.  "When it's ready."

A year later, the FBI comes back, angry now.  "Where's the freakin' code?"

"Sorry.  It still doesn't work."

"Let me see that code!"

"If you want."  Engineer shows a screenful of code that looks like utter gobbledygook.  "So. Can you read computer code?"

FBI agent, hesitantly, "A little."

"Well, then, you'll no doubt be able to see where we're running into problems.  Here, here, and here the bugs keep showing up.  You can understand how difficult the solution is."

" . . . sure . . . "

"We'll let you know when we've made progress."

The FBI agent slouches out. The engineer laughs behind his hand, clears the screen of gobbledygood, and goes back to his Candy Crush game.

I mean, how can the government force anyone to create something that government agents don't understand?  It would be like the government ordering me to write a transcendentalist novel.  Yeah, they could order me to do so, but if I said it would take twenty years to do it, how would they know?

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
iskander9999
Mar. 21st, 2016 02:49 pm (UTC)
Well, I suspect that the easiest way to do it would be to hold the company in contempt of the court if they do not abide by a reasonable amount of time.

There is a court case in Washington State (colloquially known as the "McCleary case") that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which found the state is not doing its constitutional duty of funding public education properly. The state legislation hemmed and hawed and said it's really hard to fund things properly given all the other constraints and one party that refuses to let tax increases through. The court agreed, and gave them a deadline to figure things out (of, I believe, a few years, say 3-4). Fast forward 4 years later... the court gets involved again, and the state legislature is now in contempt of the court, with daily fines being assessed on the legislature through the state budget, the money accumulating into an account intended for public education.

Now obviously this is different when the entity in breach is a private company, but eventually, after a few rounds to the SCOTUS, perhaps it might end up in a similar situation?

Not saying this is _likely_, just _possible_.
delkytlar
Mar. 21st, 2016 02:56 pm (UTC)
The FBI and NSA have their own code writers, code breakers and gear heads. I'm sure they have someone qualified enough to identify a half-hearted effort on Apple's part.


FBI Agent Ray Ban: Well, Beanie? What's wrong with this Apple hack code?

Tech 1st Class Beanie: There's nothing wrong with the code, Agent Ban. This code they showed you will work fine - if your goal is to play Donkey Kong Jr. on your iMac.


I don't think faking it is a viable option for Apple.
nancylebov
Mar. 21st, 2016 03:03 pm (UTC)
A fake is much harder to detect if you resist the temptation to be a wiseass about it.

Meanwhile.... Atlas SHRUGGED! Atlas SHRUGGED!
delkytlar
Mar. 22nd, 2016 04:14 am (UTC)

It is the rare coder who doesn't like to tweak the nose of government agencies when given the opportunity.

spiziks
Mar. 21st, 2016 08:02 pm (UTC)
Unless their qualified engineers quit, of course.
spiziks
Mar. 21st, 2016 08:03 pm (UTC)
I'm still stunned by the idea that a court has--or thinks it has--the power the compel a company to divert thousands of labor hours and millions of dollars to a project on behalf of the government for free. This is exactly the kind of thing conservatives should be arguing AGAINST--free enterprise, smaller government. But conservatives are arguing FOR this.

Edited at 2016-03-21 08:04 pm (UTC)
jagfanlj
Mar. 21st, 2016 08:59 pm (UTC)
Not ALL conservatives.
aka, That think you're doing: it's called prejudice.

Even my super-conservative friends are banging their head against the wall at the idea of the government forcing ANYONE to work for free. If the government drafts you into service, military or otherwise, you should get paid. PRISONERS get paid for their work.

I also think attempting to force someone to create anything is the definition of "an exercise in futility". Barring the incentive of threats to torture family members, of course, which might get you something resembling what you want. I doubt the FBI is prepared to go that far.
spiziks
Mar. 22nd, 2016 01:19 am (UTC)
Re: Not ALL conservatives.
To put it another way: all the conservatives that have been in the media. I haven't heard of any public conservative support for Apple. Maybe it's time for some of them to start speaking out!
delkytlar
Mar. 22nd, 2016 04:12 am (UTC)

Many conservatives value "security" over all other considerations, including constitutional rights and the free enterprise system.

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
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