Bill Gates Weighs In on Encryption Battle Between Apple, FBI

Microsoft co-founder has a different take than his Silicon Valley counterparts.

ByABC News
February 23, 2016, 10:15 AM

— -- Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is wading into Apple's encryption battle with federal authorities, offering a different take than many of his Silicon Valley counterparts.

Gates said he thinks there is a way for Apple to cooperate with federal authorities to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters and said he believes it's possible to turn over the information without creating a so-called backdoor to crack every iPhone, according to an interview published today by the Financial Times.

"Nobody’s talking about a backdoor, so that’s not the right question. This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They’re not asking for some general thing, they’re asking for a particular case," Gates said in the interview. He said the government is only looking for "a specific set of information" and not a master key to break into other phones.

"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," he 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' comments are a departure from many of his Silicon Valley counterparts who have rallied around Apple's decision to push back against a federal order to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters, fearing compliance could set a dangerous precedent allowing the government and hackers to break into smartphones.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was "sympathetic" to Apple's battle and said he doesn't believe "building backdoors is the way to go," according to The New York Times.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who has worked closely with the company's open source Android operating system, was an early supporter of Apple's battle against the federal order.

In a series of tweets last week, Pichai warned that creating a backdoor for law enforcement to bypass security measures could compromise users' privacy.

"We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders," he wrote. "But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent."

Jan Koum, the CEO of WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging app, said he "couldn't agree more" with a letter posted Tuesday night by Apple CEO Tim Cook explaining Apple's stance on privacy.

"I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple's efforts to protect user data," Koum wrote on his Facebook page. "We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake."

Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, tweeted a link to a statement from Reform Government Surveillance, which is a coalition of tech companies, including Microsoft, which monitors government surveillance issues.