Meet Ted Olson, Apple's insanely high-powered lawyer in the FBI case

Ted OlsonGettyApple attorney Theodore B. Olson

When it became clear last week that Apple was facing a long-term, thorny case over whether it should help hack an encrypted terrorist’s iPhone, the Cupertino company went out and hired one of the most prominent lawyers in the United States, Ted Olson.

Olson has become Apple’s public face of choice when addressing the FBI issue. On Tuesday, Olson publicly and ferociously defended Apple during an interview on CBS.

When asked about the FBI’s argument that the case only applies to one phone, Olson replied:

“That’s a totally bogus argument, and the government knows it, and its surrogates know it,” Olson said. “There’s nothing stopping this government or other governments from doing the same thing the next day or next week.”

One distinction that Olson wanted to make clear is that this case is not about an encryption key, but whether Apple should be compelled to build a “different iPhone, a defective product.”

“The government is not asking for a key to this cell phone, the government is asking for Apple to design a new cell phone, use new code to break down security systems that are built into this particular iPhone,” Olson said.

“Apple is very sensitive to the concerns of terrorism, and so am I. It’s very important. But the civil liberties written into our Constitution is what the terrorists want to take away from us,” Olson said.

In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Olson said that the FBI court order could open a “Pandora’s box” of privacy and security issues.

Olson was calm and logical even as the hosts peppered him with unfriendly questions, including one instance when Charlie Rose alluded to his wife, conservative commentator Barbara Olson, who died on American Airlines Flight 77 on 9/11.

But it shouldn’t be surprising that hosts on a morning talk show couldn’t rattle Olson, who has made a career of delivering arguments on the largest legal stages in the United States. He’s argued countless historic cases, including:

  • Challenging Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California
  • Representing the NFL Player’s Association during the 2011 lockout
  • On behalf of George W. Bush in the Supreme Court case Bush vs. Gore

Olson, a Republican, was also solicitor general under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004.

Last week, Apple promised through a letter to its customers that it would fight a court order forcing it to create a new version of its iOS software that would enable the FBI to access data on one of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhones.

The case is shaping up to be a heavyweight legal battle, with some reports indicating that Apple is willing to argue it all the way up to the Supreme Court.

As outside lawyers go, Apple has hired one of the most high-profile litigators in the United States, with extensive Supreme Court experience. And given the media appearances he’s made in the past week, it seems as if Apple is comfortable making him the public face of its battle with the FBI.

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