Digital privacy activists have planned some 30 rallies at Apple Stores nationwide on Tuesday to deliver a simple message to the FBI: "Don’t break our phones."
The advocacy group Fight for the Future (FFTF) is organizing the rallies to support Apple's stance against the Justice Department, which wants the tech company to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack.
"What the FBI is asking for would actually deeply undermine our national security," said Evan Greer, a campaign director at FFTF, which has emerged as a leading voice in favor of strong privacy protections in the long-simmering debate between law enforcement and the tech community over encryption on consumer devices.
The high-profile decision by Apple CEO Tim Cook to resist the FBI's request – along with California court ruling supporting the agency – has thrust that debate into the national spotlight. In a letter to customers, Mr. Cook flatly refused to comply, prompting the Justice Department to reply last week with a motion that would force Apple to disable the security features immediately.
While Apple supporters have taken to the Web and social media to back the tech company, Tuesday's rallies marks the first concerted effort among privacy groups to take to the streets and rally public support for the cause.
So far, however, the public appears to be siding with the FBI. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of respondents said Apple should unlock the phone, 38 percent said Apple should not, and 11 percent were undecided.
"In this case, there’s a real opportunity for people to actually get involved and say, ‘Apple, continue opposing this court order because we value the fact that you’re putting the security that keeps everybody safe as a priority here," said Charlie Furman, another campaign director at FFTF, who is organizing Tuesday's rally in San Francisco.
Scheduled for 5:30 p.m. local time, the rallies will be held in front of Apple Stores and the FBI’s headquarters in Washington. According to Ms. Greer, the gatherings are meant to both disseminate information on the issue and give privacy supporters a platform for their voice to be heard.
Sean Vitka, policy council for privacy nonprofit Demand Progress, is organizing the Washington rally. Ideally, he said, the protests will send a message to the FBI to stop pressuring Apple on the matter. "I’m hoping that we can communicate to the FBI that they need to stop endangering Americans," he said, "and that’s exactly what they’re doing with this kind of precedent."
The Center for Media Justice, another group that plans to participate in Tuesday's rallies, said it's taking up the privacy cause because matters of digital security are especially important to anyone involved in social movements such as Black Lives Matter.
"We are deeply concerned that this technology and this order will create extraordinary vulnerabilities for a person doing social and political organizing,” said Malkia Cyril, executive director for the Center for Media Justice. "For us the real issue is political security, the ability to organize, protest and access our fourth amendment rights without intervention from the United States government."