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A new poll shows the FBI is winning its PR war with Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

For the past week, Apple has been locked in a high-profile fight with the FBI over whether it can be forced to help the FBI unlock the encrypted iPhone of San Bernardino terrorism suspect Syed Farook.

While no one is too worried about the privacy rights of a dead terrorism suspect, both Apple and civil liberties groups see this case as an opening blow in a much larger government effort to undermine the security of Apple customers' smartphone data. Law enforcement and intelligence figures have been arguing for some time now that smartphone encryption is making it harder for them to do their job, while technology companies argue that complying with law enforcement requests will make it impossible for them to protect their customers.

But Apple's strong stance against assisting the FBI isn't particularly popular with the public, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center:

Pew Research Center

Apple enjoys the strongest support among young people and political independents. But a plurality of respondents among all major demographic and political groups sided with the FBI. Even a plurality of iPhone owners believed Apple should unlock Farook's iPhone, by a narrow 47-43 margin.

It's worth noting that the response to a question like this can depend heavily on the exact wording. For instance, a question that focuses on the terrorism angle to the case is likely to attract less support for Apple than one that frames it as a fight over user privacy. As it is, though, this result is a troubling sign for Apple's longer-term effort to shield its customers' data from government spying.

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