It’s a case that has echoes of the Patriot Act, which in part leveraged the 9/11 attacks to expand governmental surveillance capabilities -- eventually leading to the bloated NSA programs outed by Edward Snowden several years ago.
As of right now, though, there is no specific legislation regarding this kind of situation, so the FBI is attempting to pressure Apple using the All Writs Act, which was signed into law in 1789.
Data privacy is a public issue whose importance really can’t be overstated. Marketers, advertisers, retailers, publishers and ad networks deal with data all the time. The entire digital ad industry is based on the exchange of data.
What's really hard is that legislation regarding the government’s access to data is still a gray area.
The data the government is asking Apple to provide access to is more private than the data advertisers and others access. The difference is, advertiser access to data doesn’t weaken the overall cybersecurity infrastructure of a manufacturer.
These kinds of demands make it easier to understand the EU’s reluctance to allow the free flow of data across the Atlantic.
That’s not to say the EU isn’t spying on its citizenry -- they just haven’t been embarrassed internationally for it, as the U.S. was.
The kind of decryption the FBI is asking for would be bad for both business and international relations.
What kind of precedent does it set to make a manufacturer weaken its own product? Who would ever buy an iPhone if they knew that it could be forced open by the government? I somehow doubt the folks at the FBI -- or any astute government official, for that matter -- would continue to patronize Apple after they forced the company to crack open its own safe.