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Company, not Cook, will be held responsible if Apple loses fight over FBI case, experts say

Although CEO Tim Cook could, theoretically, be put in prison if Apple continues to refuse the order to help the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, more likely is that the company itself might be held in contempt, according to a pair of experts weighing in on the matter.




A privacy lawyer with the Electornic Frontier Foundation, Lee Tien, told Quartz that the company could potentially be hit with severe fines. Specifically he referred to a 2007 case, in which the U.S. government allegedly threatened Yahoo with fines up to $250,000 per day if it refused to share data wanted for surveillance.

Both Yahoo and Apple were among several major U.S. tech companies later identified as participants — willing or unwilling — in PRISM, a National Security Agency program scooping up vast amounts of Internet communications data. That program was exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

A national security law expert at American University, Stephen Vladeck, also supported the view that Apple as a whole could be held in contempt.

Cook has said that he's willing to resist the order as far as a Supreme Court challenge, though a lawyer for the company — Ted Olson — said on Friday that Apple will probably back down if it loses at that level. No penalties are likely to come into force unless Apple makes a stand past that point, and therefore breaks the law.