In the Apple Case, a Debate Over Data Hits Home

Three years ago, reeling from Edward J. Snowden’s disclosure of the government’s vast surveillance programs and uncertain how to respond, President Obama said he welcomed a vigorous public debate about the wrenching trade-offs between safeguarding personal privacy and tracking down potential terrorists.

“It’s healthy for our democracy,” he told reporters at the time. “I think it’s a sign of maturity.”

But the national debate touched off this winter by the confrontation between the Justice Department and Apple over smartphone security is not exactly the one Mr. Obama had in mind.

Mr. Snowden’s revelations produced modest changes and a heightened suspicion of the government’s activities in cyberspace. Because the issue now centers on a device most Americans carry in their pockets, it is concrete and personal in a way that surveillance by the National Security Agency never was.

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