Bill Gates may be on the FBI's side in the San Bernardino iPhone case, but the company he co-founded has joined other tech giants in backing Apple. During a U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on "International Conflicts of Law and their Implications for Cross Border Data Requests by Law Enforcement" yesterday, Microsoft's top lawyer, Brad Smith, said his company stands behind its Cupertino, Calif.-based rival.
"We at Microsoft support Apple and will be filing an amicus brief to support Apple's position in the court case next week," said Smith during his testimony. "And I believe that Apple is making an important point that, in fact, connects directly with the kinds of issues that are being considered by this hearing today."
Smith argued that the legal reasoning behind the U.S. government's case is outdated and fails to take into account the effect of technological progress. During the hearing, he produced a 1912 adding machine to illustrate what constituted a state-of-the-art computing device in that era.
"In the Apple case, the Justice Department has asked a magistrate to apply language in the All Writs Act that was passed by Congress and written in 1911. The leading computing device of that era is right here in front of me," Smith continued. "It is an adding machine that went on sale in 1912."
In his Feb. 16 letter to customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote that "the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority" rather than seeking legislative action through the U.S. Congress. In a Q&A published on Apple's Website, it said it would welcome "a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology, and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy, and personal freedoms."
Mirroring those views, Smith said the United States needs "21st-century laws that address 21st-century technology issues. And we need these laws to be written by Congress. We, therefore, agree wholeheartedly with Apple that the right place to bring this discussion is here, to the House of Representatives and the Senate so the people who are elected by the people can make these decisions."
Microsoft's stance on the issue is at odds with Bill Gates' take on the high-profile case.
"There's no doubt Apple can make this information available and I don't think there's any doubt that when the courts eventually rule that they'll follow whatever the court says to do," said the former Microsoft CEO earlier this week in an interview with the Financial Times.
Gates also challenged Apple's assertion that the U.S. government was forcing the company to create an iPhone backdoor. "Nobody's talking about a backdoor," said Gates. "This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They're not asking for some general thing. They are asking for a particular case."