Apple attorney foresees long court battle

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Apple's head lawyer argued on Sunday that Americans can't surrender "our civil liberties," saying a court "hasn't really ruled yet" on the FBI’s demand that the tech giant help open an iPhone used by one of the killers of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

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"I don't want to get ahead of the judicial branch. There's a magistrate that has yet to have a hearing," Theodore Olson said on ABC’s “This Week” in response to a question about whether Apple executives are willing to be held in contempt of court or go to jail.

"If the magistrate rules, I'm sure if it rules in our favor, the government will appeal. If it rules against Apple, there's an appeal to a distinct judge and then to a court of appeals and then ultimately, possibly to the United States Supreme Court," he added.

"We're talking about respecting the fact that a court hasn’t really ruled yet and Congress has decided not to enter into this area and not to require Apple to do what it's basically, essentially, very difficult to do and would require Apple to comply with these kind of court orders all over the country and in other parts of the world," he said.

Olson said obeying the FBI’s demand could damage iPhone owners’ personal and financial privacy, and expose health records, noting the implications are "quite serious."

He said people need to take a step back and have a debate over the issues at hand.

"Remember, terrorists wish to change our lives. They wish to take away our civil liberties. and give the terrorists a victory that they actually seek," he said.

"We had a Revolutionary War over general writs supplied by the king that invaded people's privacy. We have to stick to our principles."

Appearing on the same program, New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner John Miller said that it's "absurd" that people think the government is going to go seize everybody's health records, go through their private information and then "give it away to the world."

"This phone, a government-owned phone that belonged to two dead people who have no privacy rights, who are at the middle of a terrorist investigation, where the information on that phone could save lives," he said.

"I don't know why we're still talking about this."