Apple engineers might quit to avoid making ‘GovtOS’


We doubt we'll see this at any WWDC keynotes. At least, we hope we won't.
Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

Apple’s own engineers may be the company’s last line of defense if it loses its case against the FBI and receives final orders to create “GovtOS,” a less secure version of the iPhone’s mobile operating system.

In fact, some reports say that even if legal proceedings go in the government’s favor, and Apple is compelled to create the software authorities are requesting, certain employees may simply quit to avoid having to make what CEO Tim Cook has called “the software equivalent of cancer.”

Barring unemployment, some encryption engineers may have a variety of other options to stick it to the man.

Any civil disobedience from Apple engineers will be the last-ditch effort to resist compromising the security of iPhones. While the company has already achieved a couple victories in legal cases and a Congressional hearing, the fact that it’s still preparing for the absolute worst suggests that nobody has any idea how this conflict will end up.

The New York Times reports that Apple employees are “already discussing” what will happen if courts come down on the FBI’s side in the battle over the contents of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone. Their plans include simply not doing the work, taking sick time or vacations once the request comes through, or, as mentioned before, quitting.

Considering how many companies have sided with Apple, we’re pretty sure that anyone who chooses to just clean out their desks will have plenty of options of where to work. But then they won’t get to work in that giant spaceship the company is building, so it might actually be a tough call.

“It’s an independent culture and a rebellious one,” former Apple engineering manager Jean-Louis Gassée said. “If the government tries to compel testimony or action from these engineers, good luck with that.”

Apple employees are also pretty sure who would be on the team creating the so-called “GovtOS” if it comes to that, so those people may already be planning their moves. They include a former aerospace engineer who has since worked on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV; a seasoned tester; and a security architect, the Times reports. So if the government wins out, and three people matching these descriptions suddenly go on “administrative leave,” we’ll know what’s going on.

We aren’t even close to seeing how, or if, these plans will go into action. The next court hearing on the matter is March 22, and considering how Apple has done so far, nobody may ever have to quit or stay home “sick.” But this case has taken so many weird turns that we aren’t ruling anything out yet.