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In a move considered by some to be an escalation of the fight between the Department of Justice and Apple, the DOJ has stated that it may ask Apple to turn over its source code as well as the signature which validates software as coming from Apple. The statement was found in the footnotes of a brief filed by the DOJ last week.

In Apple’s filings, part of its argument against the court order to assist the FBI is that the burden being placed on the company is too great. This burden includes the man-hours spent by Apple engineers on the development of this software. Although that is far from the only argument made by Apple, the DOJ seems to have latched onto it. The brief states that turning over the source code “may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple.”

With the source code and signature in hand, the FBI could create software that Apple devices believe originated from the company. It would allow them to not only accomplish the task of making custom software for the single phone in this case, but also to undermine security on all Apple devices. It would be impossible to tell if an OS update came from Apple itself, or the government.

Reuters reports that sources close to the DOJ state that the department is not seriously planning to demand Apple turn over its source code. Apple is also reported not taking the threat seriously enough to counter when it files its own brief on Tuesday. However, some consider it an important issue. If the case ends up being appealed to the Supreme Court even fallback strategies may come into play.

According to Reuters, there is no known precedent of companies being forced to turn over source code for government agencies to replicate. Some IP lawsuits require source code to made available for inspection, but measures are put into place to prevent copying. No known case comes close to what the DOJ suggests it could ask from Apple.

What do you think of the DOJ including this in their filing – even as a footnote? Do you consider this a nuclear option? Is this a reasonable thing for a government to request? Or is this all merely a bluff? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Max Michael

Senior Writer

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