The DOJ Threatens to Seize Apple’s Crown Jewels

March 11, 2016, 7:10 PM UTC

The court papers filed by the Justice Department on Thursday—the ones describing Apple’s rhetoric in the San Bernardino standoff as “false” and “corrosive”—objected in particular to Apple’s description of the FBI’s court order as leading to a “police state.”

But “police state” is not a bad description for the scenario the DOJ paints a few pages later in Footnote Nine:

“9. For the reasons discussed above, the FBI cannot itself modify the software on [the San Bernardino shooter’s] iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature. The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers.”

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Did you catch that? That’s a classic police threat: We can do this easy way or the hard way. Give us the little thing we’re asking for—a way to bypass your security software—or we’ll take whole thing: Your crown jewels and the royal seal too.

With Apple’s source code, the FBI could, in theory, create its own version of iOS with the security features stripped out. Stamped with Apple’s (AAPL) electronic signature, the Bureau’s versions of iOS could pass for the real thing.

Does the Attorney General know what her lawyers are up to? Does the President?

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