Pew Research Survey Finds Majority Side with FBI Against Apple (Using Wrong Question)

The FBI is currently winning the battle of public opinion in its battle to force Apple to create a backdoor into iOS. The Pew Research Center published the results of a survey that found 51 percent of adults, 18 years of age or older, living in the continental United States, agreed with the FBI that Apple should unlock the iPhone used by a terrorist involved in an attack in San Bernardino, CA, in December of 2015.

Pew Survey Totals

Pew Survey Chart

Pew surveyed 1,002 people, half on landlines and half on cellphones. 51 percent sided with the FBI, while 38 percent thought that Apple should not unlock the iPhone. In reality, Apple has not been ordered to unlock the iPhone, but instead was ordered to create a new operating system that could be sideloaded onto the iPhone in question so that the FBI can brute force attack the device.

In that regards, the Pew survey was flawed to begin with. Apple can't unlock the device, nor can anyone else. A more nuanced survey would have asked if Apple should be forced to create a backdoor into iOS allowing the FBI to access the device. The results might have been the same. Or not. It would be interesting to know, and it's too bad Pew screwed up this question so significantly.

That said, there was an interesting aspect of this survey: "75% say they have heard either a lot (39%) or a little (36%) about the situation." That's a high level of awareness for an issue that is nuanced and difficult to grok.

When the results are limited to those who owned an iPhone, the results were 47 percent in favor of Apple "unlocking the iPhone" compared to 43 percent who think Apple should not. While less than a majority, those numbers still favor the FBI.

Pew Survey iPhone Owners

Pew Survey Chart

Other interesting notes include that the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to believe Apple should not "unlock the iPhone." Those registered as Republican or Democrat were similarly inclined towards believing Apple should unlock the device, while independents were closer to evenly split. Even more interesting, Democratic-leaning independents were significantly more disposed towards Apple's point of view.

Pew Surveys Age Differences

Pew Chart