Protesters rally against taking a byte of their Apple

A small pack of protesters picketed in front of the Apple Store on the Third Street Promenade on Tuesday evening, February 23, rallying against the FBI’s efforts to force Apple to unlock an encrypted iPhone belonging to Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters.

“Thou shalt not let the government take another bite of the apple,” said one protester from the line of eight people standing in front of the Apple Store. The pro-Apple activists were showing their solidarity with the tech giant for their stance on not creating a “backdoor” into the shooter’s iPhone. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has argued that allowing the FBI access to the iPhone's software would set a “dangerous precedent” in the tech industry, compromising the privacy of millions of people who could be exposed to unwanted intrusions by less democratic governments and hackers.

With more media showing up for the event than protesters themselves, the protest seemed to not draw the attention of the Apple Store staff and security. Eventually curious bystanders began to gravitate to the line of television cameras gearing up to cover the few supporters who took time out of their evening to show their support for Apple’s stance.

“The FBI are boobs and clowns and I don’t trust them with my security and my privacy because they’re trying to claim that you can trust us and I absolutely don’t believe them,” said Tom Wolff a protester from South Dakota. Wolff held a picket sign with a flip phone taped to it and a slogan reading “No FBiOS”. Wolff said, “I want to support Apple in their opposition to that.”

“I think they shouldn’t just hand it over. I’m not saying the Agency shouldn’t be able to unlock the phone, but they should go through the correct protocols and we should rewrite the legislation,” said Danny Sparks, a spectator from Santa Monica.

“It’s a new age. These warrants aren’t the same as the ones that apply to your house. These are devices that use your fingerprint. The same way they treat confidentiality between a husband and a wife should be the way that they treat our relationship with these devices,” Sparks said. “I’m pro-privacy. This could be any other company and I would support them in the same way. I think that the FBI is doing this for a good cause, but they need to play by the rules, and I know the rules are in place already, but they need adjustments.”

While the show of support in Santa Monica was on Apple’s side, this is counter to popular opinion. According to a nation-wide poll from the Pew Research Center, a slim majority — 51 percent of people polled — supported the FBI’s command that Apple decrypt the phone.

At issue though, is that software to decrypt the phone doesn’t currently exist. According to a letter to their customers detailing the process that would be required to comply with the FBI's request, Apple would have to create an alternate version of their proprietary iOS that could be installed onto the phone in order to circumvent key security features. This would allow the FBI to input a password through an automated “brute force” hack, in which they would enter millions of passwords at a time until they hit the proper combination to gain access to the data on the phone.

“Honestly speaking, I believe the FBI should be able to access this information. We are living under government protection, which means some of our freedom does not get protected. It’s not like the FBI is trying to track where you’re at, they’re trying to see if this is an issue to national security,” said an employee at a beauty kiosk in front of the Apple Store. “Obviously there’s a line that government shouldn’t go over, but at some point I think the government should have access,” she said.

Grant Harris and Aki Rose, two protesters supporting Apple, were sharply anti-government on this position though.

“I don’t know how any of this information would be useful at this point being that a bunch of people are already dead. I also think with the use of Sting-Rays and Pen traps and some of the other technology that the FBI has access to that doesn’t require a warrant, this seems a little bit overblown,” Harris said. Rose, who was handing out “secure phones save lives” leaflets was vehemently against the FBI’s stance. “This is a dangerous thing to do," she said. "If Apple were to produce this software, it would have the ability to decrypt any Apple phone. Not only does it set a terrifying precedent, but now that software is out there, can you just imagine who would want to get their hands on the ability to decrypt hundreds of millions of devices?"

With the battle between Apple and the FBI ongoing, nobody knows which side will come out on top. On Thursday, February 25, Apple filed a motion with a federal judge in California to vacate the prior order, arguing that the case should be decided in front of Congress. Meanwhile, the FBI is using every judicial resource the government has to legally get their will fulfilled. The only sure outcome is that if Apple accedes to the demands by the FBI, it would set a precedent in the tech industry, for better or worse. With data being one of the most valuable commodities of the 21st century, this could turn into a historic case.