Apple and the F.B.I.

We are now nearly a week into the public fight between Apple and the F.B.I. and neither side appears ready to back down.

In case you missed it, the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants Apple to write software that would help investigators circumvent the security settings of an iPhone that belonged to one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting.

Technically, this isn’t about breaking encryption, it’s about figuring out a password. The iPhone has a setting that would erase its data after 10 incorrect attempts at the password. What the F.B.I. wants, essentially, is for Apple to write software that would let it keep guessing until it hits the code.

But here is where it gets tricky: Apple says that would essentially amount to writing software to ruin its own security. And though the F.B.I. says this is a one-shot deal important to a terrorism investigation, Apple executives believe writing that software would open a can of worms for law enforcement in the United States and around the world.

There is also a free speech wrinkle to this fight. Many courts have ruled that writing software is akin to writing speech. Compelling Apple to do this, civil libertarians worry, would be like compelling Apple to say or write something in particular.

Still following? It seems many Americans are, and so far they seem to be siding with the F.B.I. — 51 percent to 38 percent, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday.

But Apple executives may be able to take comfort in the knowledge that a legal fight is not a popularity contest.

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