What the FBI wants Apple to do isn’t so much opening the back door as it is deactivating the alarm and taking the deadbolt and burglar bars off the front door. They are asking to disable the functions that wipe the phone after 10 bad tries with a password, and make it possible to enter the PIN via electronic means (currently you can only enter the PIN via the touchscreen, not via any sort of external keyboard or other device). Basically they want to make it easier to brute-force the phone, which – if the suspect used any sort of complex password rather than a 4- or 6-digit numeric PIN – may or may not even let them in anytime soon.
More to the point, despite the FBI’s disavowal of any interest beyond this one phone, other law enforcement agencies in the US are lining up to have Apple do that voodoo to phones they have. And so we go sledding down the slippery slope. You don’t want to know how many demands like this China or Russia are likely to make. And even so, a bare majority of the American public is siding with the FBI, because A TERRISS. It’s the same reasons that Fast Eddie Snowden’s revelations made no impact outside of the EFF offices – the public takes for granted that technology companies can do whatever they want and cares about privacy not at all, especially so long as law enforcement jumps up and down yelling LOOK A TERRISS.
Apple’s going to take this to the rack – they have the money, they can hire the best and bloodthirstiest lawyers (and have already retained master criminal now trying to get into heaven Ted Olsen), they can pay contempt fines and legal fees with what Tim Cook found in the couch cushions at lunch – but ultimately it may not matter, because Uncle Sam has got the hydrogen bomb and nobody’s going to privilege privacy and personal security over O GOD A TERRISS, not in this administration or any one to come – simply because Republicans don’t believe in it and Democrats are terrified of what would happen if another 9/11 happened on their watch (not that having violated the privacy of a million people would buy them an inch of slack with the GOP, but so it goes).
And of course Donald Trump is now advising people to boycott Apple – even as he continues tweeting from an iPhone. Personally, this makes me want to run out and buy the notional so-called iPhone 5SE the day it ships, whether I need it or not. But that’s for another time.