Photo: Associated Press

Even if a court does force Apple to create software that would unlock an encrypted iPhone, it might have some trouble enforcing it: Some engineers tell the New York Times they would sooner quit their jobs.

According to Apple, the software—which it refers to as “GovtOS”—would take eight to ten engineers up to a month to build. But some engineers within the company anonymously tell the Times they would quit or outright refuse if assigned to the project, which could essentially void the order.

And as the Times points out, there’s little downside for the engineers, whose experience at Apple makes them eminently employable, even at companies that don’t support Apple’s stand against the government.

That would actually be a great outcome for Apple, because it would not as be easy to replace them. Because of Apple’s corporate structure, the “GovtOS” project would be “substantially complicated” if key employees declined to participate. Those employees reportedly include:

[One is] an engineer who developed software for the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. That engineer previously worked at an aerospace company. Another is a senior quality-assurance engineer who is described as an expert “bug catcher” with experience testing Apple products all the way back to the iPod. A third likely employee specializes in security architecture for the operating systems powering the iPhone, Mac and Apple TV.

Joseph DeMarco, a former federal prosecutor, tells the Times the fate of the court order could lie with them: “If — and this is a big if — every engineer at Apple who could write the code quit and, also a big if, Apple could demonstrate that this happened to the court’s satisfaction, then Apple could not comply and would not have to... It would be like asking my lawn guy to write the code.”

Who said bureaucracy is a bad thing?