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Apple Dispute Gets Personal: Encryption Debate Plays Out At Home


Today is the deadline for corporations and other organizations to file their amicus briefs, their formal show of support, in the case between Apple and the federal government. This is the case where the FBI wants Apple to help it unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, and it's not only experts who are taking sides. We asked you, our listeners, how the debate is playing out in your lives. NPR's Joel Rose reports on what we learned.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The legal standoff between Apple and the FBI is reverberating far beyond the courtroom. It's dividing siblings, parents and children, even husbands and wives.

RAYLAN BURKHARDT: This is a no-knead bread.

ROSE: Raylan and Jacob Burkhardt (ph) are working in the kitchen of their tidy ranch house outside Oklahoma City. They've been married for three years, just had their first kid in November.

R. BURKHARDT: We are kind of opposite on things. Like, I'm a vegan. He's a hunter.

ROSE: That is not the only thing they disagree on. Raylan has an iPhone. Jacob has an Android. Their politics are different, too. When it comes to this issue - whether Apple should help the government get data out of the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook - Raylan has some sympathy for the FBI.

R. BURKHARDT: If there was a way to have it on just that phone, then I could definitely agree with that and, say, yeah, that's - you know, that - to me, that's no different than going into a house of the - you know, somebody that committed a crime or a terrorist act. It's kind of the same thing to me.

ROSE: The FBI says the phone might yield some information that would help its investigation, but Jacob Burkhardt is more skeptical of law enforcement's motives.

JACOB BURKHARDT: If we all knew that it was just this one phone this one time, open it up and get the information they needed, then I would say, sure, by all means. Like - but unfortunately, our government has proven to be untrustworthy in a lot of areas, so why should we believe them when they say it's just this one phone; we'll never do it again?

ROSE: That is what Apple is worried about. The company says if it writes software to help the FBI extract data from Farook's iPhone, that would open the door to more requests from law enforcement. And if that software gets into the wrong hands, it could undermine the security of every device the company sells. That also worries Sandy Rodman (ph) in Lakeland, Fla.

SANDY RODMAN: I love my iPhone, and part of why I love my iPhone is that I'm always leaving my phone somewhere. I'm just happy that, you know, nobody can get in and steal my entire life.

ROSE: Rodman's brother lives in England. She says they usually agree on the big questions about privacy and security but not this one.

RODMAN: We were chatting on Facebook, and he said, well, if you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to fear. And I hold an opposite opinion. I just don't feel that that is something that I would be willing to give up my privacy rights for.

ROSE: Were you surprised that you and your brother were in different places?

RODMAN: I was surprised.

ROSE: Rodman's family isn't the only one that's divided. Christine Burgess (ph) is a nurse in Portland, Ore. She doesn't own a smartphone, but her husband and kids do. She brought up the issue at dinner this week.

CHRISTINE BURGESS: Most everybody came down on the side of the FBI, but my youngest son disagreed. He is distrustful of the FBI. His opinion is that they have enough information already, so voices were raised during that interchange between father and son, yes.

ROSE: Burgess agrees with her husband. She thinks the FBI should be allowed to get into Farook's phone.

BURGESS: If the judge ordered it, Apple should comply with their request, and it would be good to find out what's on that phone so that we can protect our people if we can.

ROSE: That's the case the FBI has made in public and that prosecutors will make again in court starting later this month. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.