This Is Not About a Phone
As you may have heard by now, the FBI is attempting to compel Apple to develop a means of hacking their own devices, breaking their encryption model to grant access to a dead Islamic terrorist's phone. Prosecutors are using the All Writs Act of 1789 as the basis for "forcing Apple to write new computer software."
Ignore, for a moment, the argument of privacy versus security and think about the practical application of this. Our government, supported by the court system, is not compelling a company to turn over an existing physical product. They are not compelling someone to reveal a secret.
They are compelling labor.
Software is written by people who sit at a keyboard, spend hours designing how code should work, then more hours entering and compiling it, then more time testing it and revising parts that fail. This isn't writing a letter with free-form words, or assembling Legos according to a boilerplate schematic. It requires several people to puzzle out a problem that has not previously been encountered and then perform perhaps days, perhaps months, of work getting that solution right.
Our government, supported by the court system, is seeking the precedent of compelling people to work. Would it be more offensive if they were compelling manual labor, building a bridge or digging foundations? What if the decryption solution isn't found by an arbitrary deadline? Can programmers be held in contempt of court for not being smart or fast enough? What if, in the process of unlocking a phone, data is lost? Will the company be liable for destroying evidence? Will their QA tester be criminally responsible?
This is not about unlocking a phone. This is about a government that, in a few short years, has gone from judging how much insurance companies and doctors should be "allowed" to make to telling companies that their employees must work by compulsion.
The question before us is, are you okay with that?