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Justice Department asserts it could demand source code, signing key from Apple

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In the confrontation over the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, the U.S. Justice Department believes it could potentially demand that Apple hand over iOS source code and a signing key, according to a court filing.

The Justice Department made the proposal as a footnote in a recent rebuttal of Apple's arguments in the case, Reuters reported on Tuesday. In the brief, government lawyers said they have so far pursued their current strategy — asking Apple to build a passcode limit break for the FBI — because they thought handing over code would be "less palatable" to the company.

"If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple," the lawyers said.

Source code and a signing key would allow the government to build its own workaround for Farook's phone. It could also allow agencies to slip modified software onto other iOS devices however, and might set a precedent not just in the U.S. but in other countries.

Apple has already expressed concerns about a self-made workaround for iOS security, arguing for instance that it would compromise the platform, and that the U.S. can't compel a company to write new software.

One source told Reuters that the Justice Department doesn't intend to press the idea of seizing code. A source close to Apple, meanwhile, claimed that the company isn't that worried, and won't try to argue the matter in a response to the DOJ brief due later today.