Poll: Majority of Americans think Apple should submit to iPhone unlock order

Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple’s high-profile legal standoff with the FBI is winning the company fans at the highest levels of the technology industry, but most Americans apparently don’t agree.

In a Pew Research Center survey released Monday, 51 percent of people surveyed think Apple should unlock the iPhone which was used by the killer in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Only 38 percent think Apple should resist the government’s order to unlock the phone, while 11 percent said they didn’t know. The margin of error was 3.7 percentage points.

The standoff between Apple and the FBI began when a federal judge ordered Apple to help unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who was killed in a gunfight with police after he and his wife killed 14 people in December.

The Justice Department wants to retrieve information from the phone as part of its investigation into the attack but security features have locked officials out.

The nonprofit polling organization questioned about 1,000 adults between Thursday and Sunday, just after Apple and the U.S. government’s court battle spilled into the national headlines.

Survey respondents who owned Apple’s flagship device were more likely to side with the company.

Of the 1,002 people surveyed, 333 told Pew they owned an iPhone. Forty-three percent of those iPhone owners said Apple should resist the court order, compared with 47 percent who said it should comply.

People who owned non-Apple smartphones were much more likely to side with the court. Of the 282 people who said they owned another kind of smartphone, 53 percent said Apple should comply and 38 percent said it should resist the government’s efforts.

On Monday, Apple called for the Justice Department to withdraw its demands in court and have Congress convene a panel of experts to discuss the privacy and security issues that have surfaced in the case.

The Justice Department has said that Apple’s resistance is based on “concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.”

In a public letter to customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook accused the government of overreaching. “While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products,” Cook wrote.