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.

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Catch up with all our earlier coverage below.

  • U.S. judge orders Apple to help FBI access data on San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone 5c
  • Apple publishes letter responding to FBI iPhone unlock demand: ‘an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers’
  • Google CEO Pichai appears to side with Apple in series of vague tweets on FBI encryption battle
  • Security firm shows how Apple could bypass iPhone security to comply with FBI request
  • Opinion: How likely is Apple to succeed in resisting the FBI court order?
  • Should Apple comply with FBI request to bypass San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone? [Poll]
  • Civil rights groups and tech companies express support for Apple’s stand against the FBI
  • Opinion: Why an iPhone master key is better than a backdoor, but still too dangerous
  • Petition urges White House to support Apple in blocking government access to locked iPhones
  • Senate Intelligence Committee considering bill to penalize companies refusing to decrypt user device
  • Report: Apple to get more time to formally respond to government’s request for access to locked iPhone
  • Apple/FBI fight looks destined to go all the way to the Supreme Court as more background is revealed
  • Department of Justice files motion to force Apple to comply with FBI iPhone backdoor request
  • Apple implies FBI screwup: iPhone Apple ID password changed in govt possession, backdoor unnecessary
  • FBI explains why it changed Apple ID password in iPhone unlock case, retrieved iCloud backups up to October 19 but wants more
  • San Bernardino victims divided on iPhone issue as FBI claims not trying to set a precedent
  • Apple/FBI: Tim Cook sends memo to employees, wants government to drop All Writs Act demands, posts customer FAQ
  • Edward Snowden describes how the FBI could physically extract passcode from iPhone chip without Apple’s help
  • Mark Zuckerberg sides w/ Apple in encryption battle as poll suggests public supports FBI
  • Report says DOJ seeking data from ‘about’ 12 other iPhones as Bill Gates sides with FBI
  • Report: Apple to argue that encryption battle with FBI should be decided by Congress
  • Bloomberg: Apple will argue that the digital signature it uses to validate code is protected as free speech
  • Tim Cook says tool to unlock iPhone is the ‘software equivalent of cancer’ in new interview
  • Apple working on stronger iCloud backup encryption and iPhone security to counter FBI unlock requests
  • Apple’s top lawyer Bruce Sewell to testify before Congress over encryption next week
  • Apple officially responds to court request to comply with FBI in San Bernardino iPhone case
  • Report: Google, Twitter, Facebook, & Microsoft to file court motions officially supporting Apple in FBI fight
  • FBI director admits under oath that iPhone case would set a precedent; public & Republican candidates still on FBI side
  • San Bernardino police chief takes sides in Apple’s encryption battle with the FBI
  • Apple lawyer Ted Olson says creating unlock tool would lead to an ‘Orwellian’ society [Video]

Photo: ABC News

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