In an interesting summary of the possible outcomes of the Apple vs FBI standoff, Quartz notes that some experts believe that CEO Tim Cook could be held personally liable for defying a court order and face jail time.

Attorney Peter Fu told Fast Company that the scenario would arise only if the case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Apple lost but continued to refuse to cooperate.

Under these circumstances, there is a universe of possibilities where Tim Cook could actually go to jail for refusing to comply with a lawful order of the court. This is because Apple has already publicly declared that it will not comply with a court order to unlock the iPhone and as such, necessarily forces the courts to favor punishment over coercion … 

Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security law at American University, disagrees.

It’s Apple as a corporation, and not Cook himself, that is potentially liable to a contempt charge.

Everyone seems to agree on two things, however. First, that Apple is safe for as long as it is contesting the case. It’s considered extremely unlikely that the company would face any repercussions while the case is still working its way through the appeals process. Second, that if Apple was willing to defy an eventual Supreme Court ruling, it would face substantial fines.

Yahoo, for example, was threatened with fines of $250k for every day it defied the government. That daily fine was then set to double for every week the company continued to refuse to cooperate.

Apple is a law-abiding company, and it seems unlikely that it would continue to hold out if it lost the case in the Supreme Court. The most likely outcome is that it would do as instructed and then work to make it impossible for it do the same for future devices. The Economist, however, suggested it would be a rather dramatic PR win were Cook to spend at least a few days behind bars.

9to5Mac readers strongly back Apple’s stand – but what should the company do if it loses in the Supreme Court. Does it at that point have to reluctantly comply, as a law-abiding company? Or should it hold out even beyond this point? Take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments to let us know.

Catch up with all our earlier coverage below.

Photo: ABC News

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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