Half of Americans side with FBI in iPhone unlocking case

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A bare majority of Americans believe Apple should comply with the FBI’s request to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, according to a new poll.

Fifty-one percent of respondents told the Pew Research Center that the tech giant should unlock the iPhone to assist the government’s ongoing investigation, with 38 percent backing Apple’s refusal.

The two sides have engaged in a very vocal war of words ever since a federal judge in California ordered Apple to help the FBI create a technical capability that would allow investigators to find a way into the phone used by Syed Farook, one of those responsible for shooting and killing 14 people last December.

Earlier Monday, Apple doubled down on its decree not to comply with the federal order. CEO Tim Cook sent an email to employees and had the company post a public Q&A that detailed why Apple would not help the FBI. Those efforts came after an op-ed from FBI Director James Comey was posted Sunday evening on Lawfare Blog, where he wrote the order “isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice.”

[Read more: Here’s how Apple could help the FBI]

The Pew survey drilled down to smartphone users, who mirrored the overall results of the survey. Half of respondents who own a smartphone (50 percent) say Apple should unlock the phone, compared with 41 percent who agree that Apple should refrain from unlocking the device. IPhone users were more evenly matched, with 47 percent saying Apple should comply with the FBI’s demand, while 43 percent say unlocking the phone could compromise other user’s security.

Those on both sides of the argument have been weighing in as the fight continues to play out. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed support for Apple Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, saying he doesn’t think complying with the FBI’s request is “the right thing to do.” Former National Security Agency and CIA Chief Michael Hayden told USA Today that he is “trending toward the government” in this particular case, but he is overall against requiring companies to install backdoors for law enforcement.

“I think on balance that [a back door] actually harms American safety and security, even though it might make [Comey]’s job a bit easier in some specific circumstances,” Hayden told USA Today.

Contact the reporter on this story via email at greg.otto@fedscoop.com, or follow him on Twitter at @gregotto. His OTR and PGP info can be found hereSubscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Apple, Department of Justice (DOJ), Departments, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
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