Bill Gates says Apple should unlock an iPhone used by a San Bernardino gunman to help the FBI. The Microsoft founder and former CEO believes this is a one-off scenario, and that Apple should provide the government with the information they need to solve its case.
“This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,” Gates told The Financial Times. “They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case.”
Many others disagree with that. In a memo to employees this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook insisted that unlocking this particular iPhone would set a precedent for the future, and open the floodgates for more unlock requests not only from U.S. agencies, but also those in other countries.
If Apple unlocks this one iPhone, where does it stop? How many more will it have to lock going forward, and will it be able to fight future requests if it backs down on this one?
“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 added.
“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’ view is very different to that of other Silicon Valley companies and tech executives. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others have all come out to support Apple since Cook announced it would fight the court order requesting an unlock for the FBI.
Apple obviously isn’t going to take any notice of Gates’ comments, but they’re certainly interesting given that very few people — almost no one who is as recognizable as Gates — are coming out to support the government in this case.
FBI director James Comey hopes to change that with an open letter published this week in which he insisted the bureau was simply trying to do its job and protect the American people.
“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message,” he wrote on the Lawfare blog. “It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law.”
Update: In an interview with Bloomberg, Gates has clarified his stance on this particular issue, stating that the initial report, as seen above, “doesn’t state my view on this.” He did say that while he believes there need to be proper safeguards in place, to make sure that content is secure, access from federal agencies should still be possible in select situations:
“I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable.”
When Gates was asked, specifically, about this particular case between Apple and the FBI, he said that the courts will decide, adding that Congress will also play a role in the decision, too.
This is a battle that’s sure to rage on, and it’s only going to get more interesting from here.