With Apple not yet willing to accept court orders to unlock the iPhone at the center of the San Bernardino shooing case, legal experts are weighing in on what penalties the company (and, conceivably, Tim Cook) may face if the parties involved refuse to do so.
The answer? Anything from some pretty big fines to jail-time for Apple’s CEO.
According to attorney Peter Fu, if Apple is found to have broken the all-important “All Writs Act,” fines could stretch from hundreds of thousands of dollars right the way up to millions. “The problem in this case is that there’s just no clear precedent. Estimating possible penalties is difficult because it will be largely up to the discretion of the court,” Fu says.
One possible comparison may be a previous case in which the government threatened to fine Yahoo upwards of $250,000 per day if it refused to surrender user data to the National Security Agency. This daily fine was set to double each week Yahoo refused to comply.
Fu says another scenario could be that, as Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook actually spends time in jail — although this highly unlikely to occur. Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security law at American University, told Quartz today that Apple’s status as a corporation means that, in his view, Cook himself would not be liable for a contempt charge.
As of now, the FBI/Apple case is set to be heard again on March 22, after which it will be transferred to another district court judge if Apple or the government is unhappy with the verdict.
One thing that’s for sure is that we’re pretty darn far from a conclusion to this issue — however the involved parties decide in the short-term.