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Although the legal between Apple and the FBI has yet to be resolved, Apple engineers are considering what they might do if the courts side against Apple. The New York Times reports that many would resign from the company before writing the software that the FBI is requesting. The NYT interviewed both current and former employees involved in mobile development and security at the company.

Apple stated in court filings that it would require a team of 6 to 10 engineers working for about a month to accomplish what the FBI was requesting. The team that would work on it does not yet exist and would have to be assembled from their top talent, but the company already has an idea of who would be on it. If these key individuals refused to assist, they would have no way of obeying the court order.

Joseph DeMarco, a former federal prosecutor who filed a brief in support of the FBI, thinks Apple would be off the hook from obeying the order if the employees quit. “If — and this is a big if — every engineer at Apple who could write the code quit and, also a big if, Apple could demonstrate that this happened to the court’s satisfaction, then Apple could not comply and would not have to,” he said, “It would be like asking my lawn guy to write the code.”

The employees have also considered other forms of disobedience besides quitting the company. They might continue to work but refuse to write the code. However DeMarco thinks this form of resistance would have worse consequences for the company. He believes that a judge would be far more likely to find Apple in contempt if the employees simply refused to write the code rather than quit.

Apple employees in this situation may draw inspiration from the Lavabit, which had its own legal fight with the FBI a few years ago. The discontinued email service faced a court order to turn over its encryption keys so FBI could access Edward Snowden’s email. The owner of Lavabit shut the company down rather than obey the order.

Do you think Apple employees will resist the FBI if Apple loses in the courts? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.