Just over half of Americans believe that Apple should unlock an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino terrorists, according to a poll published today, while 33 percent think it should not cede to the FBI's demands. The poll, conducted by the Washington, DC-based firm Morning Consult, provides a detailed analysis of American opinion amid a stalemate that has revived the debate over privacy and national security.
The poll of 1,935 registered voters, conducted online over February 24th and 25th, suggests that Americans are concerned about their privacy, with 54 percent saying their personal data would be less secure if Apple and other tech companies were forced to make it available to the government. Yet 34 percent said that providing access to personal data would make the US "more likely to prevent terrorist attacks." Notably, 26 percent said it would have no effect on preventing terrorist attacks, while 24 percent said they did not know or had no opinion on the matter. Despite the controversy, Apple CEO Tim Cook is viewed favorably relative to other tech executives, the poll shows; 38 percent of respondents gave him a favorable rating, second only to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with 48 percent.
The Morning Consult study broadly mirrors findings from a smaller Pew poll released this week; both polls found that 51 percent of respondents believe that Apple should comply with the FBI's orders. An online Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters delivered slightly closer results, showing that 47 percent support Apple's stance against unlocking the phone.
Apple has been embroiled in a standoff with the FBI after a judge ordered the company to unlock an iPhone 5c owned by Syed Farook, who together with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in a December terrorist attack. The FBI says that accessing the phone could provide information on who Farook was communicating with prior to the attack, but Apple has refused to comply, saying that creating a backdoor for the FBI would jeopardize the security of all iPhones and the privacy of its customers. Apple formally contested the order in court on Thursday.
In the Morning Consult poll, about half (49 percent) of respondents said they support the creation of a committee to study the issues surrounding privacy and national security and issue recommendations to improve existing laws. Cook has publicly pushed for the creation of a commission of experts to debate the issue more closely, arguing that the San Bernardino case has privacy implications that go beyond a single iPhone. But according to the poll, most Americans think the committee wouldn't have much of an impact on the security of their personal data. Just 15 percent of respondents feel that the committee would make their data more secure, while 31 percent feel that it would make their data less secure.
The Morning Consult poll suggests that opinion is slightly divided along political party lines, as well. Republican respondents were more likely to support the FBI, with 57 percent saying Apple should unlock the iPhone, compared to 49 percent among respondents who identified as Democrat. But when questioned on data security, respondents on both sides of the aisle expressed broad agreement. Fifty-four percent of both Republicans and Democrats said that requiring companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook to give the government access to personal data would make their information less secure.
Those over the age of 65 were more likely to side with the FBI, with 58 percent saying Apple should unlock the phone, compared to 41 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 agreed. There was a notable divide across income levels, as well; 58 percent of those earning over $100,000 a year said that Apple should unlock the iPhone, compared to 46 percent among those earning less than $50,000 a year.