Was Pew’s Polling Question on the Apple/FBI Debate Misleading?

Mike Masnick, writing for TechDirt:

The question asked was

As you may know, RANDOMIZE: [the FBI has said that accessing the iPhone is an important part of their ongoing investigation into the San Bernardino attacks] while [Apple has said that unlocking the iPhone could compromise the security of other users’ information] do you think Apple [READ; RANDOMIZE]?

(1) Should unlock the iPhone (2) Should not unlock the iPhone (3) Don’t Know.

But that’s not the issue in this case!

As noted in the past, when it’s possible for Apple to get access to data, it has always done so in response to lawful court orders. That’s similar to almost every other company as well. This case is different because it’s not asking Apple to “unlock the iPhone.” The issue is that Apple cannot unlock the iPhone and thus, the FBI has instead gotten a court order to demand that Apple create an entirely new operating system that undermines the safety and security of iPhones, so that the FBI can hack into the iPhone. That’s a really different thing.

He makes a good point. But when it comes to public polling on an issue like this, you can’t expect the public to understand the technical issues. Ideally, yes, the language used by Pew would have been much more precise. But basically what they were asking is “Do you think Apple should do whatever the FBI wants them to do to get the information from the San Bernardino suspect’s iPhone?” For polling purposes, I don’t think it matters much what “whatever” is.

It’s true that if phrased differently, it’s quite possible you’d get a polling showing more support for Apple. But the bottom line is that a lot of Americans think Apple should just do what the FBI is asking them to do.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016