Microsoft founder Bill Gates set himself apart from other Silicon Valley CEOs when he pledged his support to the FBI, and criticized Apple for refusing to comply with the government’s order to “build a backdoor” into the iPhone.
While Apple CEO Tim Cook said that creating the technology to break into an encrypted iPhone “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand,” Gates told Financial Times that he disagrees with Cook’s interpretation of the request.
“Nobody is talking about a ‘backdoor,’ so that’s not the right question,” Gates said. “This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case.”
The “particular case” that Gates is referencing is the iPhone used by Syed Farook, who is a suspect in the shooting that killed 14 people and wounded 22 in San Bernardino, California, in December. Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple Inc. to break into Farook’s iPhone to access its data.
However, in a letter to customers last week, Cook asserted that the government’s order was for Apple to create “a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation.”
Cook claimed the software “does not exist today,” and said that in the wrong hands, it would have “the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
The FBI confirmed on Friday that it ordered San Bernardino county officials to reset the iCloud password of the iPhone used by Farook, which reportedly eliminated “the possibility of an auto-backup” of the device’s data.
In his interview with Financial Times, published Tuesday, Gates insisted that Apple still has access to the information.
“Apple has access to the information,” Gates said. “They’re just refusing to provide the access, and the courts will tell them whether to provide the access or not. You shouldn’t call the access some special thing.”
Gates went on to say he believes this case is no different than the FBI asking a bank to hack into the account of one of its customers.
“It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records,” Gates said. “Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said, ‘Don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times’.”
Gates also told FT that he hopes there will be a debate “so that the safeguards are built and so people do not opt” to say “it is better that the government does not have access to any information.”
The views expressed by Gates contrast those of other major tech companies and their CEOs.
Facebook issued a statement claiming it will “continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems.” Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said he supports Apple and thanked Cook for his leadership. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said “forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy.” And WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum said tech companies “must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set.”