WASHINGTON — Apple engineers have begun developing new security measures that would make it impossible for the government to break into a locked iPhone using methods similar to those now at the center of a court fight in California, according to people close to the company and security experts.
If Apple succeeds in upgrading its security — and experts say it almost surely will — the company will create a significant technical challenge for law enforcement agencies, even if the Obama administration wins its fight over access to data stored on an iPhone used by one of the killers in last year’s San Bernardino, Calif., rampage. If the Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted to get into a phone in the future, it would need a new way to do so. That would most likely prompt a new cycle of court fights and, yet again, more technical fixes by Apple.
The only way out of this scenario, experts say, is for Congress to get involved. Federal wiretapping laws require traditional phone carriers to make their data accessible to law enforcement agencies. But tech companies like Apple and Google are not covered, and they have strongly resisted legislation that would place similar requirements on them.
“We are in for an arms race unless and until Congress decides to clarify who has what obligations in situations like this,” said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Companies have always searched for software bugs and patched holes to keep their code secure from hackers. But since the revelations of government surveillance made by Edward J. Snowden, companies have been retooling their products to protect against government intrusion.
For Apple, security is also a global marketing strategy. New security measures would not only help the company in its fight with the government, but also reassure investors and customers.
“For all of those people who want to have a voice but they’re afraid, we are standing up, and we are standing up for our customers because protecting them we view as our job,” Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, said on Wednesday in an interview with ABC News.