The federal judiciary hasn't yet ruled on the FBI's encryption battle with Apple, but the government appears to be winning in the court of public opinion.
A slim majority -- 51% -- of U.S. adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center say they believe Apple should unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Only 38% said Apple should refuse to unlock the device, and 11% said they didn't have an opinion. Those figures come from a telephone survey of 1,002 people conducted last weekend.
Researchers told the respondents that the FBI says accessing the iPhone is an important part of the ongoing investigation, and that Apple says unlocking the device could compromise other iPhone users' security.
It's worth noting that despite the wording of the question, the FBI isn't technically asking Apple to unlock the device. Instead, the authorities want Apple to create software that will disable a security feature that prevents hackers from repeatedly testing different passwords on the phone.
Apple has consistently said that once such software exists, it could be used to hack other devices. CEO Tim Cook made that point again today, in a new Web site devoted to the controversy. "In the digital world, the technique, once created, could be used over and over again, on any number of devices," the company states. "In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks. Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals."
FBI director James Comey counters that whatever Apple creates to help unlock the phone will quickly become dated. "The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve," he writes in a blog post published Sunday.
Last week, a federal judge ordered Apple to create the software the FBI is seeking. Apple is challenging that order in court. The company is expected to file new legal arguments by Friday.