Apple lawyer: ‘If we lose to FBI, that will lead to a police state’

(Cyberwar.news) Apple’s top lawyer says if the company is forced to provide backdoor technology for an iPhone the FBI is attempting to access as part of a terrorism investigation, it would lead to “a police state.”

In an interview with CNN/Money, Theodore “Ted” Olsen, a former solicitor general under the George W. Bush administration, painted a frightening picture of a future where government demands would supersede any company’s or citizen’s right to privacy under any circumstances where law enforcement demanded access. Olsen said it would lead to a government with “limitless” powers that could “listen to your conversations.”

But it wouldn’t stop there, he added.

“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.”

The Justice Department is attempting to force Apple to create new software that would give the FBI the ability to hack into a county-issued iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino terrorists. A federal magistrate judge initially ruled in the government’s favor, but a final hearing is scheduled for March 22.

Thus far Apple has defied that order, saying providing a backdoor would potentially allow anyone to break into millions of iPhones around the world.

“Apple is being asked to put an Achilles heel on the iPhone,” Olson said. “The iPhone’s security is the reason why many, many people bought the phone.”

While remaining “very sensitive” to national security, Olsen – who understands such things better than most because of his past position as chief litigator for the Bush administration before the federal judiciary – said Apple understands that the FBI is trying to keep Americans safe. And he added that the tech giant has complied with every “legal” request made by law enforcement for customers’ data.

But in this case, Olsen said the government is overstepping its legal authority. He said that Apple’s position has never changed but rather, the government’s request that has changed, becoming overly expansive.

“It’s very easy to say ‘terrorism is involved’ and therefore you should do whatever the government wants to do,” he said. “But just because you’re using the word ‘terrorism,’ you don’t want to violate the civil liberties that all of us cherish.”

When asked how far Apple planned to pursue its case, he said “we are a long, long way from that.” But Olsen added that this is the kind of precedent-setting case that might get all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earlier, FBI Director James Comey denied that the Apple case would set a precedent, but in open testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said whatever the outcome of the Apple case is would likely “guide how other courts handle similar requests.”

Olsen did say if the case makes it to the nation’s highest court and Apple loses, the company would comply with the FBI’s request.

In the meantime, Olsen said that Apple is currently working on a version of the iPhone that even it can’t break into – likely in anticipation of being forced to provide access to devices the company opposes.

“Apple is constantly trying to improve its iPhones … so that people can’t hack in and find out where your children are or what your medical records are,” he said. “So if Apple continues to do that, it’s just a point at which the government just can’t get into your soul. We have got to have a stopping point.”

See also:

CNN/Money

The Guardian