Technology driving issue

Justice Department lawyers insist gaining access to information on a cellphone used by a dead terrorist is a critical matter of national security.

But Apple Inc. officials maintain giving the government access could jeopardize the privacy of millions of people who use similar phones.

At issue is encryption technology used to keep information on cellphones, including text messages, private. Specifically, the government wants the contents of a phone used by dead terrorist Syed Farook. Last year, he and his wife slaughtered 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., before being killed in a gun battle with police.

One judge already has ordered Apple to write software needed to get around encryption protection on the phone. Apple is appealing that decision and now, the Justice Department is saying it wants only information from the phone, not software to defeat the encryption system.

We don’t envy appeals court judges, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court, who will decide the case. Very good arguments can be made on both sides of the issue. One is that allowing a government that cannot keep detailed personal information about its spies secret to have even a foot in the door on Americans’ personal privacy is a bad idea.

But beyond all that, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the case is this: It is one in which technology is driving, even controlling, important considerations of privacy and security. That, not necessarily the specifics of this case, is worrisome.

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