Bill Gates Sides With FBI in San Bernardino iPhone Case

Microsoft's co-founder breaks rank with other tech giants to support the FBI in its efforts to unlock an iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, Microsoft's storied co-founder and former CEO, is siding with U.S. law enforcement officials in the controversial San Bernardino iPhone case.

Apple CEO Time Cook has publicly rejected a court order to assist the FBI in unlocking an encrypted iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, one of the suspects in the Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 people dead and another 22 wounded. In a Feb. 16 letter to customers, Cook argued that the FBI wanted Apple to create a new version of the iPhone operating system that circumvents key security features.

"In the wrong hands, this software—which does not exist today—would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession," wrote Cook. "The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control."

Cook's stance has garnered the support of other influential tech CEOs, including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Google's Sundar Pichai.

"We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders. But that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices and data," wrote Pinchai in a series of Feb. 17 tweets. "Could be a troubling precedent."

One of the most prominent figures in tech doesn't share that perspective.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Bill Gates argued that Apple has it within its power to provide the information sought by the FBI and challenged the company's view of the court order as a request for a "backdoor" into the company's software. "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 Gates.

Downplaying Apple's assertions, Gates further argued that the FBI's request was limited in scope, echoing a weekend blog post from FBI director James Comey.

"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."

In his blog entry, Comey said that the legal issue surrounding the case is narrow. "The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve," he wrote. "We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That's it."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...