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How you might feel about Apple right now if your boyfriend died in San Bernardino

Among those debating Apple's stance against the Justice Department are a handful of people who know from experience what it is like to have a terrorist's gun aimed at them or their loved ones.

For some, Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone and what it could reveal beyond its locked pass code is a valuable puzzle piece in the FBI's investigation. A failure to pursue that data, they say, could hinder their chance at closure.

"Let's see how you feel when it affects you," Ryan Reyes, whose boyfriend was killed in the San Bernardino massacre at the Inland Regional Center, said Monday.

Reyes went nearly 24 hours with conflicting reports about the fate of Daniel Kaufman. When the truth emerged about his companion of three years, Reyes wept in his kitchen while news of the mass shooting flashed across his television.

He now finds it disrespectful that the shooting has been folded into discussions of consumer privacy and believes that Apple has dished out what feels like an insult to the victims.

Supportive of Apple's resistance at first, Reyes believes the federal court order should have ended the dispute. Those who disagree do so, he said, "because they've never had something like this happen to them. But as a fellow human being, you should be more focused on 'Are my bookmarked cat videos more important than finding out what it is that could keep myself or a family member safe?'"

FULL COVERAGE: Apple's fight with the FBI

If another similar attack happened, he wonders whether people would still put privacy above justice.

The director of the FBI contends that the agency has simply requested a chance at guessing Farook's pass code "without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly" and has no intention of setting a master key "loose on the land."

James Comey also said in a statement late Sunday that he hoped the public remembered what terrorists had done to innocent Americans.

"Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law," Comey said.

"Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn't. But we can't look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don't follow this lead."

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook appeared to volley back Monday morning in a letter to employees.

"This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation.... At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone's civil liberties," Cook said in the letter provided to news outlets.

He mentioned an email he received from a 13-year-old app developer who thanked the company for standing up for all future generations. "And a 30-year Army veteran told me, 'Like my freedom, I will always consider my privacy as a treasure,'" Cook said.

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Company attorney Ted Olson had said that fulfilling the FBI's request would be akin to unlatching Pandora's box.

But a lawyer representing some families of the San Bernardino victims, as well as survivors, said that assertion was "wildly overstated."

Attorney Stephen Larson said Apple's compliance could shed light on the shooting and help lead to his clients' peace of mind.

"The law enforcement interest is in terms of their criminal investigation and potential prosecution. The victims' interest goes beyond that," Larson said Monday. "It goes to the bigger questions: How this could have happened. Why were these victims targeted? Is there any continued issue or concern?"

A former federal judge, Larson said he was approached by the Justice Department and local prosecutors about a week ago and asked if he would consider representing victims' and family members' interests. He said he plans to file a friend-of-the-court brief in early March.

John Ramos, who had been seated at Farook's table but stepped away shortly before the shooting began, said investigating the Dec. 2 attack should take precedence over any perceived risk to privacy.

"The owner is the county, and the user is dead," he said. "There is no privacy issue here."

Not everyone affected by the attack, however, is behind the FBI.

Salihin Kondoker said he and his wife — Farook's co-worker who was wounded in the shooting — don't believe the agency should be focusing on the phone, which was issued by the county. Kondoker, who works in information technology, said that his wife's work iPhone comes with GPS so it can be tracked and that employees are instructed not to use it for personal matters.

"The company has a very high restriction on these phones," he said. "My wife didn't use hers for personal purposes — even I was not allowed to call her on her company phone. I don't know why we have to put Apple in the spotlight on this. I think we're going the wrong direction. We need to focus on his personal phone and the phone carriers."

Jenni Kosse, who lost four friends in the shooting, said she has come to understand Apple's dilemma.

"Initially I thought, 'Just open it. Why is this person's privacy more important than the lives that they took and the people that were injured?'" she said.

Now Kosse sees it as a more complex issue. But mostly, she worries that the battle between the federal agency and the tech giant will get tied up in the courts and only bog down the investigation.

For Kosse, who has suffered panic attacks since the shooting, any holdups to answers and possible protection is just a waste of time.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 23, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "TERRORISM INVESTIGATION - Survivors split on Apple - Some believe unlocking Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone could help bring closure; others say the effort is `going the wrong direction.'" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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