An attorney for Apple says the escalating battle between the tech giant and the FBI -- in which Apple is refusing to comply with a court order forcing the company to unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the San Bernardino rampage -- could be headed to the Supreme Court. Apple attorney Ted Olson gave an exclusive interview to our Washington, D.C. bureau reporter Geoff Bennett, who filed the following report.

Legendary attorney Ted Olson laid out Apple’s core argument in its standoff with the FBI over government access to an encrypted iPhone.

"The government does not have the power under the Constitution or any existing statutes to make private citizens or private companies change their designs of their products," Olson said.

Olson was giving his first TV interview since James Comey, the director of the FBI, delivered a warning at a congressional hearing on encryption and national security.

"It's our job to tell the American people the tools we use to keep you safe are becoming less effective," Comey said last week before the House Judiciary Committee.

Apple is refusing to write special software that would help federal investigators unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Olson says cracking open the device would open a "Pandora's box" of security issues.

"There is grave risk to hundreds of millions of people who have depended on Apple to provide them with security and confidence that their innermost secrets, the location of where their children might be, their medical records and that sort of thing can be protected from intrusion," Olson said.

In a separate but related case, the Justice Department on Tuesday asked a Brooklyn federal court to reverse a decision that said Apple is not required to unlock an iPhone used by a suspected drug dealer.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance says he wants Apple’s help in unlocking nearly 200 iPhones linked to criminal investigations.

Bennett: The Manhattan District Attorney says criminals knowingly take advantage of encryption. Does that give you pause?
Olson: Yes, it does, but in a different way. What he’s not focusing on: If Apple’s encryption system can be broken by a government in one case, it can be broken by criminals, it can be broken by hackers, it can be broken by hostile governments.

Ted Olson, as the former U.S. solicitor general, used to represent the federal government before the Supreme Court.

Now representing Apple, he says if Congress doesn’t step in with a resolution agreeable to all sides, the high court is where this struggle between national security and consumer privacy might ultimately be decided.