The cost of what the FBI is asking Apple to do

Yesterday, Apple filed a motion to vacate he FBI’s recent court order. The motion itself is complex, but one of the arguments at its core is the extreme effort required to build what the FBI is asking for:

The compromised operating system that the governnment demands would require significant resources and effort to develop. Although it is difficult to estimate, because it has never been done before, the design, creation, validation, and deployment of the software likely would necessitate six to ten Apple engineers and employees dedicating a very substantial portion of their time for a minimum of two weeks, and likely as many as four weeks. Members of the team would include engineers from Apple’s core operating system group, a quality assurance engineer, a project manager, and either a document writer or tool writer.

Part of the case law surrounding the All Writs Act has produced this precedent language:

An order pursuant to the All Writs Act must not adversely affect the basic interests of the third party or impose an undue burden.

When someone says, Apple should just give them the number, or turn off the encryption, they clearly do not understand the level of effort and cost required on Apple’s part. This is a reasonable argument, especially when you consider that the FBI could have prevented all this if they came to Apple before they changed the iCloud password, thus preventing the phone from continuing to back itself up.

Using the All Writs Act to force an uninvolved, third party company to develop custom software for the government seems to be an overreach and would potentially set a dangerous precedent.