ACLU principal technologist and Yale Law School visiting fellow Christopher Soghoian drew attention to a rather dramatic raising of the stakes in the DOJ’s latest filing in the San Bernardino iPhone case. It contains an implicit threat that if Apple isn’t willing to create the special version of iOS needed to break the passcode protection, the government could force the company to hand over both the source code and signature so that its own coders could do it instead.

For the reasons discussed above, the FBI cannot itself modify the software on Farook’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.

It then goes on to cite a case it believes provides a precedent for this …

The clause is the very epitome of a ‘steel fist in a velvet glove,’ gently worded to suggest that the government is willing to save Apple time and trouble while actually warning the company that things could get very much worse for it if it fails to cooperate.

Both sides now appear to be playing hardball, in both the legal battle itself and in the rhetoric. The DOJ yesterday accused Apple of being “corrosive and false” and Apple responded by saying that the government is “so desperate at this point that it has thrown all decorum to the wind.”

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