On Tuesday evening a magistrate judge in Riverside, California, issued an unprecedented order—under a law that dates back to 1789—commanding that Apple help the FBI access the encrypted contents of an iPhone that belonged to one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino shootings. Apple is refusing to do so, as it should, because the order represents an incredible overreach in government power. Some are reporting that Apple has agreed to unlock some iPhones in the past, though we don’t know in what circumstances. Whatever Apple’s past agreements with law enforcement, it has decided to fight against this order, as well as a similar one in New York.
But this story isn’t just about the one iPhone, or even all iPhones. If the government prevails, this precedent threatens to undermine the security and trustworthiness of the software running on all of our digital devices. The loss of that trust will spell disaster for the digital economy that relies heavily on that trust.