The debate over whether Apple should help the government unlock a mass shooter’s iPhone landed in Boston Tuesday evening.
Protestors joined those in 50 other states to demonstrate outside the Apple store on Boylston Street at 5:30 p.m., waving smartphone-shaped banners and signs reading “Don’t Break Our Phones.”
Evan Greer, the Boston-based national campaign director for the nonprofit Fight for the Future, which organized the rally, told Metro that the action was not about one company, one brand of phone or one individual shooter’s device.
“These rallies are about opposing a very dangerous order that the government has made that stands to put millions of people in harm’s way,” Greer said. “This isn’t about whether you like Apple… It’s about a precedent that could undermine safety.”
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has spoken out against a court order demanding the company help the FBI gain access to the device owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, the man accused of killing 14 people in San Bernardino in December with his wife, Tashfeen Malik. Both were killed by police.
The FBI has asked Apple to write software that would override programming that keeps phone passwords protected. The agency has said it needs to access the phone as part of its investigation into the killing spree.
Opponents of the move and civil liberties advocates worry that creating that feature could make users vulnerable to government monitoring, or to cyber attacks.
“While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products,” Cook wrote in a Feb. 16 open letter to Apple’s customers. “And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”
David Segal, executive director for the national grassroots group Demand Progress, echoed those sentiments in a statement ahead of the rally.
“Apple’s stand today will help keep security threats at bay,” Segal said. “But we will all be less safe if the FBI succeeds at its politically expedient, but shortsighted, approach. Our devices will become more vulnerable and the sensitive data they hold will be more accessible to people who want it for malicious purposes.”
The FBI has said too much is being made of the government’s ask of the technology giant.
“We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That's it,” FBI Director James Comey wrote Sunday on the blog Lawfare, adding “we can't look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don't follow this lead.”
A recent Pew Research Center poll found 51 percent of Americans supported the FBI and Justice Department’s point of view, while just 38 percent said Apple should not unlock the phone. Eleven percent said they weren’t sure.
Greer said the protests in 50 cities sprung out of grassroots organizing around the country. She said she did not reach out to local politicians for support.
Reached by phone, the treasurer for the Massachusetts contingent of the Pirate Party, Steve Revilak, said several members from that group would be among demonstrators Tuesday. He said the party aims to protect individuals' rights even amid concerns about violent threats.
"What I think is really good is this is starting to help us have a debate that's kind of long overdue, which is mainly: What are we willing to give up to fight terrorism?" Revilak said. "They say it's all about one phone. I think there's a very good argument to be made that [authorities] are really looking to add this to their toolbox."
This story has been updated to correct pronouns used in reference to Fight for the Future's Evan Greer.