In what’s rapidly becoming the Great Encryption Debate of 2016, the federal government appears to have gained the upper hand—for now.
The Pew Research Center took the temperature of the American people and found that a majority, 51 percent, believe Apple should cooperate with the FBI and help unlock an iPhone used by the deceased San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. That’s compared to 38 percent who think Apple is doing the right thing by taking a stand.
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates also got in on the act, causing a stir as he at first appeared to back the federal government’s position but then equivocated, calling for a “debate” about when the government “has a right to know” personal information on people’s phones.
Apple’s argument also got a boost, though, in the form of an article in the Wall Street Journal that showed the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to compel Apple to extract information from around 12 iPhones in cases pending around the country. FBI director James Comey has suggested that his agency’s demand is a one-time deal that is justified because it is part of the fight against terrorism. The Journal’s finding would seem to dispute that, lending credence to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s assertion that if his company complies, the government will seek to broaden its access to the information stored on people’s phones.
Of course, trial in the court of public opinion—even when the opinions being expressed are those of the main players in an ongoing legal dispute—ultimately won’t affect the real court's decision. To that end, Apple plans to file a formal appeal to the court order on Friday.