This 6th grader understands the Apple/FBI case better than most members of Congress

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Tomorrow, March 22, Apple and the FBI go to court for the next hearing on the ongoing dispute over encrypted data on the iPhone of deceased San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook [Update: turns out they don't].

The fight has received plenty of press coverage, a Congressional hearing, and the now-requisite Taiwanese animators' treatment. Alongside coverage comes commentary, including the public in the form of letters to the editor of The New York Times. This weekend the Times published a number of letters in response to an article analyzing the debate.


The letters include an accusation that America has "become a nation of sheep [with] Silicon Valley our shepherd," statements about the framers of the Constitution having been unable to foresee "a partnership between government and private industry" such as what would be required in this circumstance, and some well-reasoned but overlong explanations about why Apple's cooperation could be dangerous.

There's also a letter from a 6th grader who seems to get it. Alyssa Hansraj of Chicago, who the Times notes sent the letter "as part of a class study of the Apple case," writes:

To the Editor:

The government wants Apple to design a utility to hack Syed Farook’s iPhone, while Apple is refusing to do so. I agree with Apple that building a tool to bypass iPhone security can jeopardize the privacy of all iPhone users.

Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, said in a letter to Apple customers, “It would be the equivalent of a master key capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks.” If hackers got hold of this master key, imagine what they could do with the data of millions of people who use iPhones.

Besides the issues of data security and privacy, there is an issue of how much control we want the government to have. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the government’s law enforcement agencies are “asking the public to grant them significant new powers that could put all our communications infrastructure at risk.”

Some argue that unlocking Mr. Farook’s iPhone would not set a wider precedent, but this back door could be used by hackers if not by the government.


Alyssa understands what is being asked, cites her sources, and contextualizes her argument within a broader framework of ideas about civil liberties. Good job, American education system.

Alyssa's grasp of the situation seems to be former than some Members of Congress, like, say Trey Gowdy, who suggested in response to Apple lawyer Bruce Sewell's call for a debate that "sometimes circumstances are exigent and we don’t have time for a lengthy conversation" about decrypting the phone of a dead man.

Good job Alyssa.

[h/t Kade Crockford]

Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at