A recent Pew Research Center report finds that 51 percent of Americans agree with the FBI.
While Silicon Valley execs rally around Apple in its stand-off with the FBI, one industry heavyweight is not exactly jumping to Apple’s defense: Bill Gates.
“Apple has access to the information, they’re just refusing to provide the access,” he told the Financial Times.
“You shouldn’t call the access some special thing,” he said, adding that this case is no different from the government asking for phone or bank records. “Any time a bank is told, ‘Hey, turn over bank account information,’ as soon as they do that on one person, then they’re admitting they can do it on many people,” Gates said.
In a later interview with Bloomberg (video below), Gates said he was “disappointed” that his comments had been characterized as backing the FBI “because that doesn’t state my view on this,” but he stopped short of saying Apple should not comply with the court’s order.
“The courts are going to decide this, and I think Apple said whatever the court decision is, they’ll abide by [it],” Gates said when asked asked what Cupertino should do. “In the meantime, that gives us this opportunity to get the discussion” started.
He urged both sides not to act rashly. “You want to strike that balance [and] set an example” for the rest of the world.
Last week, a Los Angeles District Court judge ruled that the tech titan must assist the U.S. government in the search of an iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.
The controversial court order does not explicitly ask Apple to break the phone’s encryption, but rather to develop and install a new mobile operating system to allow the government to bypass a setting that wipes the phone after 10 incorrect passcode guesses.
The FBI would then use a brute force attack to figure out the phone’s passcode and unlock it, without fear of deleting its data.
But Apple CEO Tim Cook says that’s a slippery slope, suggesting that a backdoor created for the FBI could very easily land in the hands of those with nefarious intent.
Cupertino has already handed over everything it had on the shooter from Apple’s servers, but the actual phone is encrypted for security purposes.
Apple fears that if it makes an exception for this case, more requests will follow. Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhone they want unlocked if the FBI wins this case.
“In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks,” Cupertino said in a Q&A posted to its website. “Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but … it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals.”
To the contrary, FBI boss James Comey said on Sunday that the government does not “want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.”
Comey and the Bureau seem to have the ear of the American public: According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 51 percent of people say Apple should unlock the iPhone; only 38 percent think the company should stand its ground.
Late last week, the Department of Justice filed a motion to force Apple to comply with the court’s original order.
The agency said it shared the iDevice maker’s concerns that information needs to be protected, but insists the FBI’s order does not compromise that goal.
Apple has until Feb. 26 to submit its response to the court.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m.
ET with more comments from Gates.