Bill Gates takes the government’s side, plus more Apple vs. FBI

It’s Apple vs. FBI — and Bill Gates vs. the rest of the tech world. Or so we thought. The Microsoft co-founder, who had spoken out in favor of the U.S. government in the ultimate privacy vs. national security case, is backtracking.

Apple is opposing a court order to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers, saying it doesn’t want to create a backdoor that could jeopardize privacy and security for all iPhone users.

In an interview with the Financial Times, which included video, Gates agreed with the FBI’s contention that it’s merely seeking help in this one instance — although there are reports that the Justice Department is looking to force Apple to “extract data” in about a dozen other cases.

“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 told the Financial Times. “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.’ ”

The tech figure turned philanthropist told the FT that people have to answer the question: “Is there any case in which the company should provide the information?”

However, Gates then went on television Tuesday to say he was disappointed with the FT’s portrayal, saying “that doesn’t state my view on this” and calling for a “really good debate” on the issues.

“I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases when the government, on our behalf — like stalking, terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable,” Gates said on “Bloomberg GO.” He did acknowledge that the government has taken information and misused it in the past.

Gates’ stance — despite its nuances — differs from most of the rest of the tech industry, which has spoken out in favor of Apple on this issue. Apple’s supporters include tech groups, plus Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who for the first time Monday publicly spoke about the case. (His company last week issued a statement.)

“We’re sympathetic with Apple on this one,” Zuckerberg reportedly said Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “We believe in encryption.”

Meanwhile, a Pew Research survey says 51 percent of Americans support the FBI, with 38 percent supporting Apple and 11 percent not providing an opinion. The poll, conducted Feb. 18 to 21, surveyed 1,001 U.S. adults.

But Apple supporters are sure to make news today. Advocacy groups have called for protests against the government over this issue at Apple’s stores around the nation at 5:30 p.m. local time in each city. Protesters are expected in San Francisco, Palo Alto, New York and more, according to Fight the Future, the main organizer of the rallies.

Updated above with new comments from Gates.

Photo: Bill Gates, philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, attends a conference at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)


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  • Jerry O’Hara

    Biggest Corporate criminal takes a stance against Apple. Hmmm who would have thought. Bill you must be losing it you crook!

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  • Chris Tubutis

    Microsoft / Bill Gates has been curiously silent on the topic… which generally implies they have already succumbed to the government’s wishes and created back doors, likely long ago (I will guess they’ve been doing this for more than 10 years). These (late) statements by Mr. Gates serve to confirm that….

  • jubeininja69

    Microsoft has played second fiddle to Apple. Of course Bill would support the feds.