Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told Bloomberg on Tuesday that he was “disappointed” about reports stating that he backed the FBI in its current battle with Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. That’s not his view on the situation, he said, but added that placing the right safeguards into cases where the government is acting on behalf of the American public would be “valuable.”
When asked about his opinion on the FBI vs. Apple case, he said that the courts would ultimately make the decision, and that Apple would abide by that decision. However, in the meantime, now would be a great opportunity for discussion, although the issues will be decided in Congress, such as the Patriot Act and how that will be used.
“You don’t want to just take the minute after a terrorist event and swing in that direction nor in general do you want to completely swing away from government access when you get some abuse being revealed. You want to strike that balance that the United States leads and set an example,” he said.
His disappointment stems from an interview with the Financial Times that says he backs the FBI’s iPhone request. He told the news agency that the FBI isn’t looking for Apple to create some “general thing” like a master key or a back door to iOS, but is seeking to gain access to information for “a particular case.” The FBI has said this over the past week even though Apple CEO Tim Cook stresses that the government wants a special operating system void of specific security features to access the shooter’s phone.
“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 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’.”
Gates told the Financial Times that there needs to be rules set in place for when the government wants to access information during terror threat investigations, and other scenarios. He wants to see a debate take place so that safeguards are established that will enable countries to decide whether the local government can or cannot have access to information.
The iPhone in question was used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in last December’s attack. As reported over the last week, the phone is in the FBI’s possession, and will wipe the stored data if the passcode is entered incorrectly ten times. The FBI wants to bypass this security feature and use brute force to gain access to the phone’s contents. Apple refuses to create a tool that will enable this procedure.
On Monday, Apple admitted in a FAQ that it could create a tool for the FBI, but chooses not to because the company feels that the requested software would be too dangerous. “The only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it,” Apple states.
Security firm founder John McAfee recently said in an exclusive interview with Maximum PC that the FBI doesn’t have the capacity to hack the controversial iPhone, stating that the government is illiterate in cybersecurity because the technology departments are out of date and not keeping up with changing technology. The government also is said to be opposed to hiring people who can actually help them: hackers.
McAfee also pointed out that Russia and China not only have the tools to hack the iPhone, but to cripple the American economy. “With the push of a button, the Chinese can terminate our electrical production and put us permanently without power,” he said. “This is a known fact in the hacking community. We are so far behind that it’s incomprehensible that we still call ourselves a world power.”