FBI versus Apple, the most significant privacy case of our lifetime?

An iPhone is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.  The San Bernardino County-owned iPhone at the center of an unfolding high-profile legal battle between Apple Inc. and the U.S. government lacked a device management feature bought by the county that, if installed, would have allowed investigators easy and immediate access.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

An iPhone is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. The San Bernardino County-owned iPhone at the center of an unfolding high-profile legal battle between Apple Inc. and the U.S. government lacked a device management feature bought by the county that, if installed, would have allowed investigators easy and immediate access. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The intensifying dispute between federal law enforcement officials and Apple executives over access to the encrypted iPhone of one of the San Bernardino murderers may turn out to be one of the most significant privacy cases of our time. But it is still only one example of the broader national debate, in court and in Congress, over national security and new technology. The feds say they want access to just the one phone that they themselves cannot hack into, and that the company is protecting terrorists by refusing to comply with a federal magistrate’s order. Apple says that creating new software to hack into one phone is a dangerous precedent, because it will effectively mean the existence of software that will make every phone everywhere vulnerable to “backdoor” surveillance by the police (and anyone else). It’s a case, and a cause, that likely will end up at the Supreme Court. It is precisely the sort of high-profile case that would have appealed to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who often surprised his critics (and angered his conservative colleagues) by siding against the government when privacy interests and law enforcement priorities clashed. — Andrew Cohen