In the wake of the San Bernadino terror attacks, a US court has ordered that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone.

The FBI recovered an iPhone belonging to one of the suspects. Problem is, they don't know the passcode and can’t get past iOS security.

So the FBI wants Apple to build another version of iOS with hackable security, to enable the FBI to break in to the device. Apple is not keen. It says that building a backdoor into iOS devices represents an unjustifiable breach of personal security and privacy.

It kind of begs the question, how does a single US judge end up with the power to, potentially, break the internet.

The FBI is relying on a 1789 law that effectively allows courts to make any orders necessary or appropriate in the exercise of their jurisdiction. It provides a neat means for law enforcement agencies to seek extraordinary power without the endorsement of the legislature. The only real restraint is that the order is not unreasonably burdensome. The 1789 law is itself a backdoor.

The broader debate about breaking encryption in favour of national security is important. The US and UK governments have been talking about it a lot lately. And if they go there, it seems pretty likely that Australia will too.

Unsurprisingly, the big internet players oppose it. Apple, Google and many others are speaking loudly of the danger of breaking encryption. The cost to personal security and consumer confidence is high; too high they say. Apart from the question of intrusion into our private affairs by the state, it's inevitable that bad people will get their hands on the same capability before long. This genie won't fit back in the bottle.

This is a serious issue with massive implications. It deserves proper debate in US Congress, or in federal parliament here at home; not backdoor treatment under a 227 year old law.