Apple v. the FBI: Where Obama, Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Twitter and Snowden Stand on Unlocking the iPhone

Plus: One lawmaker may write a law to force Obama to act

Apple's Tim Cook
Getty Images

The world is choosing sides in Apple’s fight with the FBI on whether the company should unlock a murderer’s iPhone.

On Apple’s side are Twitter, Google, and Edward Snowden. Supporting the FBI are the strangest of bedfellows: President Obama and Donald Trump. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Republican Marco Rubio are somewhere in-between.

Here’s what’s at issue: A federal court ordered Apple to help the government unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in December’s deadly attack in San Bernardino. But CEO Tim Cook said the request would force the company to create a key that could be used to open anyone’s iPhone.

Here’s how the two sides are shaking out:



As the operator of the Android software that powers the majority of the world’s smartphones, Google is the world’s other main encrypter of phone data alongside Apple. And like Apple, it amped up measures in its software two years ago to automatically scramble information on its smartphones.

In a series of tweets, CEO Sundar Pichai called Cook’s letter about Apple’s refusal an “important post.” He noted that the court order against Apple is significantly different from the kind of access Google has previously provided for law enforcement, based on valid legal orders.

Pichai also struck a diplomatic tone, saying he was “looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue.”


Donald Trump

The Republican presidential candidate sided with law enforcement, calling for vigilance on security and “common sense.”

“I agree 100 percent with the courts,” Trump said on a segment with Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” Wednesday. “Who do they think they are? No, we have to open it up.”

He rejected Apple’s argument that creating the tool to unlock the shooter’s phone could jeopardize private citizens’ rights. “Apple, this is one case, this is a case that certainly we should be able to get into the phone,” he said. “And we should find out what happened, why it happened, and maybe there’s other people involved and we have to do that.”


Sen. Marco Rubio

Trump’s Republican presidential rival took a more nuanced position. He called on Apple to voluntarily abide by the court order in the interest of being “a good corporate citizen,” but he noted the complications of the standoff during an appearance on CNN.

“I don’t have a magic solution for it today. It’s a complicated new issue,” he said.


Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Both Democratic presidential candidates deferred from choosing sides during a Town Hall televised Thursday on MSNBC.

Sanders said Cook has seized on an important — but complicated — civil rights issue. Sanders said he’s “very fearful in America about Big Brother” and worried that granting the FBI access to private information could open the door to wider overreach, though he understood the national security concerns as well.

Clinton similarly weighed law enforcement’s desire to protect public safety with Apple’s worries. “Law enforcement has every reason to want to get information off of a killer’s cell phone,” she said, but added that it could lead to demands not just from “the United States government but the Chinese, Russian, Iranian governments.”



The world’s biggest social network vowed to “fight aggressively” against government efforts that would weaken the security of technology products, while also acknowledging that law enforcement’s public safety mandate is “essential work,” according to a statement. It also emphasized its own stance that “those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place” on Facebook’s services, which include its massive social network, photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp.


Apple co-founder Steve Wozniack

Wozniak stood behind the stance of his company during an appearance on CNBC, saying Apple’s brand recognition, value and profits are based on trust. He added that Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO, would likely have fallen on the side of protecting customers’ privacy.


John McAfee

In an op-ed for Business Insider, the anti-virus software businessman — who is known for colorful proclamations and his own tangles with law enforcement — offered to help the FBI hack the iPhone to eliminate the need for Apple to create another way in.

“With all due respect to Tim Cook and Apple, I work with a team of the best hackers on the planet,” he wrote. “I would eat my shoe… if we could not break the encryption on the San Bernardino phone.”

The task would take his team three weeks, he said. “If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.”