A former U.S. Solicitor General now representing Apple defended the company’s decision to refuse to comply with the FBI’s request to unlock an iPhone left behind by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack.
Apple "can't surrender our civil liberties," Ted Olson said in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” maintaining "the law does not require Apple to do what the FBI is asking so far."
The iPhone at the center of the legal battle belonged to Syed Farook, who, along with his wife, launched an attack on an office holiday party in December, killing 14 of Farook's coworkers. The couple was killed hours later in a police shootout.
San Bernardino marked the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11.
The Justice Department has asked Apple to disable the feature that erases an iPhone's data after 10 failed attempts to unlock the device, so that investigators can run all possible combinations to break the four-digit passcode on Farook's phone. A federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI, but the company has said it plans to fight the order.
Prosecutors said Farook's device could be encrypted to the point that its content would be "permanently inaccessible," and, "Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search."
Apple must draw a line and adhere to the trust of its users, Olson said, adding the company has a responsibility to maintain the faith of its customers who depend it to protect the privacy of everything from their finances to their health records.
"Terrorists wish to change our lives," Olson said. "We can't surrender our civil liberties and give the terrorists a victory that they actually seek."
Olson served as Solicitor General under former President George W. Bush during the September 11th attacks, and his wife, Barbara Olson, was among those killed abroad American Airlines flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon. At a remembrance ceremony making the tenth anniversary of 9/11, he touched on how policies and laws implemented in response to the attacks impact civil liberties.
“We have proven that a free people can combat terrorism and remain a country of laws, liberty and equality,” he said in 2011. “We might not agree with all our nation has done to protect its citizens’ basic civil liberty — the right to life itself — but it has been done with a minimum of sacrifice to our other liberties. All in all, we’ve done pretty well.”
In his closing at the ceremony, Olson said, “One very vital place where the challenge of terrorism and the commitment to liberty must particularly be balanced and maintained is right here, in America, in our nation’s capital, in our government and in the agency that is named for one of our cherished ideals: Justice.”
A magistrate has yet to make a ruling on the Justice Department's filing. If the battle between the FBI and Apple continues, it's a matter that could work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
ABC News' Jack Date contributed to this report.