By Todd C. Frankel and Ellen Nakashima February 19 at 11:32 PM
The Justice Department calculated that it held a winning hand — the passcode-locked Apple iPhone of a terrorist — when it went to a federal court in Riverside, Calif.
Not only did the agency want Apple to build special software to help the FBI crack open the phone, but the government also knew the order would be made public.
After a mass killing that provoked national outrage, the government hoped to win support far outside the courtroom in its bid to gain access to encrypted phones in criminal and terrorism cases.
“They picked this case to increase the chances of getting public opinion on their side,” said a former federal prosecutor.
Now, a single iPhone has reignited a broad debate about government surveillance and the needs of law enforcement vs. the need for privacy. The showdown escalated Friday with the Justice Department accusing Apple of putting its “brand marketing” ahead of the law. The stakes have soared, well beyond the fate of any particular iPhone.