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Apple lawyer on iPhone fight: 'The world is watching right now'

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If Apple helps the FBI break security on the San Bernardino iPhone, will the rest of the world follow its lead? It's been a live question in recent conversations around the issue, and Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell raised it again today in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

"I think that the world is watching what happens right now in our government and what happens even right now with respect to this particular debate," Sewell told the committee. "Our ability to maintain a consistent position around the world, our ability to say we will not compromise the safety and security of any of our users around the world, is substantially weakened if we are forced to make that compromise here in our own country."

"The only place we’re having this debate is in our own country."

Since the case began, there has been significant speculation as to whether Apple has cooperated with similar demands, particularly in China. Former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker raised the issues in a recent Lawfare post, suggesting the company's current privacy stance was hypocritical in light of previous interactions with the Chinese government. Sewell rejected those suggestions. "To date we have not had demands like this from any other country," he told the committee. "The only place we’re having this debate is in our own country. But if we are ordered to do this, it will be a hot minute before we get those requests from other places."

In a recent call with reporters, senior Apple executives confirmed that impression, stating unequivocally that Apple has never complied with a government request to sign software.