Apple losing to feds in court of public opinion

More than half of those surveyed by Pew think Apple should help the FBI break into an iPhone linked to San Bernardino massacre.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
2 min read

The Justice Department seems to have more supporters than Apple in its battle to get the tech giant to unlock an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino massacre.

More than 50 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center believe Apple should help the FBI access information from an iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, a shooter in the deadly terror attack. Meanwhile, 38 percent of the more than 1,000 Americans surveyed said the tech giant should not assist the feds and 11 percent did not have an opinion, Pew said Monday.


Most Americans participating in a Pew Center survey say they support the US government over Apple in a dispute over an iPhone linked to a deadly terrorist shooting.

Pew Research Center

Among smartphone owners, 50 percent said Apple should help the FBI unlock the iPhone, compared with 41 percent who said the company shouldn't.

The results are in sharp contrast to a CNET poll in which four fifths of roughly 15,000 readers have sided with Apple's refusal to assist.

Apple and the FBI are embroiled in a high-profile battle that's taking place not only in federal court, but also in the court of public opinion, with tech leaders and government officials on opposite sides. It's part of a larger national debate on how to balance privacy with national security and the role technology companies should play in investigating and anticipating terroristic threats.

Tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter have publicly supported Apple CEO Tim Cook for refusing to breaking into the phone. The American Civil Liberties Union and the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation have also supported Cook's position.


Pew Center survey shows most Americans are siding with the US government over tech giant Apple.

Pew Research Center

However, many politicians and noted law enforcement leaders want Apple to comply with a judge's order to assist the FBI in accessing the phone. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, and New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton are among those who want Apple to cooperate with the government.

On Monday, Cook urged the US government to drop its order for Apple to create a backdoor into an iPhone tied to the December shootings that killed 14 and injured 22. Cook argues that such a move sets "a dangerous precedent" and would expose iPhone users to severe security risks.

That came a day after FBI Director James Comey said in blog he wants the tech giant to create a new version of its iOS software that allows investigators access to the smartphone. "We don't want to break anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the land," he said.

In other results from the Pew survey: Forty-seven percent of iPhone owners only said Apple should assist the feds, while 43 percent said it shouldn't citing security concerns; and 75 percent of survey participants said they heard something about the dispute.

The FBI declined to comment on the poll results, and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.