To illustrate, he pointed to another Pew study conducted in December. "Public concerns that anti-terrorism policies have gone too far in restricting civil liberties have fallen to their lowest level in five years (28 percent)," Pew said then. "Twice as many (56 percent) now say their greater concern is that these policies have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country."
Given that reality, a showing of 38 percent in support of Apple might not be a bad result for the company, especially given that there are nuances to the argument Apple is trying to make.
Another factor is that while many people favor security in the abstract, they might be less willing to see their own personal data put at risk, Tyson said. According to the latest study, among those who personally own an iPhone, the views were more evenly divided, with 47 percent saying Apple should help unlock the phone, and 43 percent saying it should not.
Whatever the public's view, it shouldn't influence the outcome of Apple's legal case. "The courts should not be swayed at all," said Susan Hennessey, managing editor of Lawfare and a former attorney in the Office of General Counsel at the NSA.
But it could influence future legislation in this area.
"Certainly public opinion is enormously important for future legislative efforts," she said.
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