Apple’s fight with FBI leads to speculation on possible penalties, jail time

A recent court filing by Lisa Olle, manager of Apple’s Global Privacy & Law Enforcement Compliance Team, details Apple’s efforts to aid authorities investigating the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Apple Insider reports. The document shows that Apple provided same-day turnarounds on no fewer than three FBI requests, delivering all the information it had on file related to several names and user accounts as early as Dec. 5, three days after the attacks. Olle appears to be part of the team responsible for providing the FBI with alternatives to extracting all available data about the attackers and claims the company made every effort to cooperate. “Throughout the investigation, I and other Apple representatives, including a senior engineer, continually made ourselves available to the government, on a 24/7 basis, participating in teleconferences, providing technical assistance, answering questions from the FBI, and suggesting potential alternatives for the government to attempt to obtain data from the Subject Device,” Olle stated in the declaration.
But the FBI has argued that assistance is not enough, demanding that Apple dedicate the resources necessary to overcome the iPhone’s security measures so that every piece of information stored on the device itself can be inspected. Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, hired by Apple to plead its case, told CNN that the company is “very sensitive” to national security issues and has complied with all legal requests for customer data, but contends that giving in to the FBI’s request to create a back door into the iPhone would create a precedent allowing government “limitless” powers. “You can imagine every different law enforcement official telling Apple we want a new product to get into something,” Olson said. “Even a state judge could order Apple to build something. There’s no stopping point. That would lead to a police state.”

In an interview with NPR, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan argued that society has to question whether it wants a private company making the determination about what information should be available to law enforcement. Burguan said he sees a “reasonably good chance that there is nothing of any value on the phone,” but added that allowing “this phone to sit there and not make an effort to get the information or the data that may be inside of that phone is simply not fair to the victims and their families.”

Apple seems poised to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, facing serious and far-reaching repercussions if the company loses its case. Fast Company reports that legal experts see the potential for Apple to be fined up to $250,000 a day for a civil contempt-of-court charge and that, while unlikely, it is possible CEO Tim Cook could even be jailed if the company continues to resist the government’s request after a Supreme Court verdict is rendered.


Dan Pye was a news editor at iLounge. He's been involved with technology his whole life, and started writing about it in 2009. He's written about everything from iPhone and iPad cases to Apple TV accessories.