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Apple spells out what it would take to comply with government's iPhone order

Gregg Keizer | March 1, 2016
Cites 'undue burden' as it estimates 6 to 10 employees working 2 to 4 weeks on creating new OS.

Some of Neuenschwander's declaration was devoted to commentary about not only this instance, but the potential of repeated demands by the government if the order was granted and then cited in subsequent cases. That commentary was similar to arguments Apple had made previously, and in the Friday motion, that although the FBI has characterized the assistance as a one-time deal, Apple will probably have to comply with scores, even hundreds, of similar orders related to other cases, most of them involving not terrorism, but run-of-the-mill criminal investigations of drug dealers, purveyors of child pornography, and the like.

The government has demanded Apple's assistance in at least 12 cases since September, but court records show that many more, some of them languishing for over a year, have been submitted.

In one of the latter cases, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security working in Sioux Falls, SD, asserted that Apple already has a logjam of requests. "I know based on my experience that Apple has a backlog of 9 to 12 months for password bypasses," said Special Agent Craig Scherer in a Feb. 16 deposition in a case involving trafficking in methamphetamine.

"If this order is permitted to stand, it will only be a matter of days before some other prosecutor, in some other important case, before some other judge, seeks a similar order using this case as precedent," Apple's lawyers wrote in their Friday motion. "Once the floodgates open, they cannot be closed, and the device security that Apple has worked so tirelessly to achieve will be unwound without so much as a congressional vote."

Neuenschwander echoed that.

"Given the complexity of designing, creating, validating, deploying, and eradicating a bespoke operating system such as the government demands, the burden on Apple will increase significantly as the number of requests to Apple increase," he said. "Each such commissioned operating system will need to be tailored to the specific combination of hardware and operating system running on the relevant device."


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