In San Bernardino, where terrorists struck, residents debate FBI vs. Apple

In San Bernardino, where terrorists struck, residents debate FBI vs. Apple
Shown is a memorial for the victims of the Dec. 2 San Bernardino attack. Residents in and around San Bernardino had a mix of feelings Wednesday over Apple's refusal to comply with a federal court order to access data inside the smartphone used by the San Bernardino attackers. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The terrorist attack that left 14 people dead in San Bernardino in December changed Rudy Garcia's sense of the world. The San Bernardino resident was at work at a warehouse when police shot and killed the suspects in a shootout nearby. He heard the volley of gunshots inside.

"I feel like I'm not safe anymore. I don't trust anyone anymore," the 27-year-old said.


For him, the answer to a question debated Wednesday by technology experts, law enforcement and privacy advocates is clear. Apple must help the FBI access information from the shooters' cellphone.

"I think the FBI has to have the right so we can be safer," he said. "So nothing like that will ever happen again."

San Bernardino-area residents and those intimately affected by the shooting reacted on Wednesday with a mix of feelings to the announcement by Apple that it would oppose a federal court order to help the FBI access data on a cellphone used by one of the shooters in the Dec. 2. attack.

Some, including the father of one victim, said they hoped the two sides would find a way to balance the urgent need for information about the shooters with the privacy needs of ordinary cellphone users. Others urged the company to comply with the order and help law enforcement.

Fourteen people were killed and 22 wounded when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire on a holiday gathering of county employees at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

Gregory Clayborn, father of Sierra Clayborn, a 27-year-old environmental health specialist who was killed in the attack, said he hoped Apple would be able to help law enforcement gain access to information from the phone without opening the doors too widely.

"This is just a specific incident," he said. "It's not like they have to have software to break everyone's codes for everyone that has an Apple phone. That's prying too deeply."

In a letter to customers, Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook said the government had asked it "to build a backdoor to the iPhone."

"While the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control," Cook wrote.

Phyllis A. Muñoz, 62, who recalled how her office went on lockdown in the hours after the shooting and how she felt numb the day after, said she supported the FBI. Law enforcement urgently needs to know as much as possible about what happened, she said.

"They need to find out more," she said. "What [the shooters] did was awful."

She nodded across the road to a large memorial of flags, flowers and notes that still covers a corner sidewalk near the Inland Regional Center.


At a San Bernardino Best Buy about a mile and a half from the site of the attack, where customers browsed a display of iPhones, several people agreed that the company should help access the data.

"Let's say because they don't get the information on the phone one person dies," said Burton Rosenberg, 75, of Lake Arrowhead. "It's an easy choice as far as I'm concerned."

Aaron Winchester, 35, of Menifee, who wore an Apple Watch and carried an iPhone 6S Plus, said he bought the products because he felt they were more secure, and less prone to being hacked. Even so, he wants Apple to help law enforcement access the information.

"When it comes to terrorism," he said, "if there's information they can get that will help prevent future crimes, that's in the best interest of everyone."

Cielo Vargas, 69, of Green Valley Lake, an unincorporated  mountain community in San Bernardino County, said she sympathized with the company.

"It's a difficult situation for Apple because if they start giving out information anytime something happens, then people are not going to want to buy Apple. At the same time, if it helps find out something that's going on," she paused. "That's hard. I'd hate to be in their position."

In the end, though, she said the company should help.

"It's lives you're talking about," she said. "I think they should allow it."

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