As Apple vs. FBI deepens, tech companies face these nuclear options

"Andrea Matwyshyn, a scholar at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society and a professor at Boston's Northeastern University School of Law, said on the phone that "picking a fight with the crown jewel of our economy" may push some companies to reconsider their domestic growth in favor of investing their overseas operations where the legal landscape may be more hospitable.

Silent Circle, maker of encrypted phone and messaging apps, famously moved to Switzerland in part to avoid the prying eyes of the US government, setting an example for smaller, more nimble firms.

"If we lost the large tech players in our economy over the long term the impact would be tremendous," said Matwyshyn. "There is a systemic risk broadly speaking not only to the short term to our economy, but in terms of the health of our society for a generation of tech entrepreneurs," she said."