5: Unreasonable

I've been pondering what's being billed as the heavyweight bout of the century: "FBI vs. Apple", even though at this point, no legal case by that name exists. But there is the court order to extract the likely useless, definitely encrypted contents of an iPhone 5c using some extremely dangerous custom firmware, which totally doesn't exist yet. The law compels you, Apple, to do this thing! Unless it's unreasonably burdensome.

There are the security arguments. The privacy arguments. Concerned, savvy users of technology cite these immediately and rush to Apple's side. These points will be part of the legal dispute ("all the way to the Supreme Court!" the sideline zealots cry prematurely), but I don't believe they will be what sways the outcome. No, it is far simpler than that. The government has brazenly asked Apple to do something unreasonable.

"Just build us a custom firmware that will let us perform a very specific type of brute force attack. How hard could it be?" How hard could it be? Certainly such an undertaking would involve dozens of people across multiple teams within Apple. They would all be asked to drop their normal work and go from zero to crunch mode on a project none of them believe in. What's more, the project certainly would violate a host of company policies and would have to be suitably shielded from the rest of the organization. Then there'd be the testing phase — because the goal is to deploy the rushed horrid thing on an irreplaceable single unit which could be destroyed if it goes wrong. We're already talking a months-long, multi-million dollar project.

Even if this were the most saintly project on the planet, Apple would have every right to contend its imposition upon them. Even if the raw costs of staff time were compensated for, the risk of fallout — a delayed iPhone 7? employees resigning? bad press and lost sales? — would be too great for anyone, even the richest corporation in the world, to readily assume. They would have to be insane to do something so patently, wildly, unreasonably burdensome.

Tim Cook's Apple will do no such thing. He has staked his career on the integrity of his employees and the safety of his customers. It's a large, brave bet, but it's one that is entirely reasonable.