What does it matter?
My subject is a little misleading but the question it poses really relates more to the specific case for the San Bernadino shooting which has cast a spotlight on this encryption issue. I am having a hard time grasping what benefit would be derived from any data collected from the phone. The shooters are dead and will not stand trial for their alleged crimes. Given that is the case, what benefit would there be from obtaining any data off the phone? What are they expecting to find? A text that calls for the shooting to start? What would be learned from that? The event has passed and these perpetrators committed this act in broad daylight. Short of straight out snooping on every person's personal conversations how could this be prevented from happening again? Suppose we find out that they did text each other prior to shooting up the facility; what do we do with that data? What benefit is provided from establishing a timeline? I don't see much value in all this effort to get data from people who cannot be tried for their crimes since the government already took it upon themselves to execute the assailants.
From a prosecutorial standpoint, it would make sense if there was the possibility of there being data on the phone that implicated those on trial or an additional participant. In drug cases you may reveal the number or contact information for the "boss" or the supplier. In fraud cases you might get exposed to data that corroborates the conspiracy theory or that ties the parties together for the fraud. But, in cases of random shootings, and especially when the shooters are killed, either by their own hands or law enforcement, what benefit is there to such historical data? We've gathered plenty of evidence from prior shootings and learned a lot about the various suspects and we know that this will happen again - as it has. No system has been put into place that has successfully thwarted any mass shooting attempts. If any attempts have been curtailed it has not happend by some data exposure but the old fashioned way, someone tips off the police.
With the Internet of Things on the horizon and more and more data being stored on electronic devices and media, it has become even more important to protect that data. The old ways of doing things are not working. There is a reason why physical locks have gotten progressively more complex over the years. Why should data locks be any different? At least with physical locks you could create additional barriers and make the effort far costlier than the prize. The same thinking should apply to electronic data and the best locks that we have involve encryption. Now, the government doesn't necessarily want to take that away but they want to have a master key. Anytime you create any sort of backdoor you create an exposure vector that is prone to exploitation and you are also left relying on the trust of individuals to protect that "master key". There is an inherent danger in that proposal and one that I am not willing to support. There is no such thing as 100% security but we don't need to be purposely punching "secret" holes in the protection to make the government's jobs of evidence gathering and enforcement any easier and also trust that it will not be exploited in any way. Anyone remember the OPM breach? I do, my SSN was leached in that attack. So, why then should I trust the government with the keys to my most personal data?
I understand that there are still some issues to be settled. I can appreciate law enforcement's difficult tasks. I also appreciate how advances in technology have helped to solve cases; advances in forensics, data modeling, wire tapping, etc. There definitely needs to be a balance but I am not sure where we can find that balance.