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In Debate Over Apple-FBI Dispute, Gates And Zuckerberg Don't Agree

Bill Gates says that in the dispute between Apple and the FBI over a court order to unlock an iPhone, he sides with the FBI. Other tech company executives have sided with Apple — including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.
Seth Wenig
Bill Gates says that in the dispute between Apple and the FBI over a court order to unlock an iPhone, he sides with the FBI. Other tech company executives have sided with Apple — including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Apple should comply with the FBI's request to extract data from an iPhone as part of a terrorism case, Microsoft founder Bill Gates says, staking out a position that's markedly different from many of his peers in the tech industry, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The two titans aired their views on what's become a public debate over whether Apple should be compelled to unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.

"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 told the Financial Times.

When asked about concerns that the process would mean that Apple creates a "backdoor" that could be used again in the future, Gates replied, "Apple has access to the information, they're just refusing to provide the access, and the courts will tell them whether to provide the access or not."

Update at 11:10 a.m. ET: Gates 'Disappointed'

Appearing on Bloomberg after his Financial Times interview, Gates said, "I was disappointed" with headlines that declared he backs the FBI, adding, "because that doesn't state my view on this."

He continued: "I do believe that with the right safeguards there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable."

Earlier in the Bloomberg segment, Gates said that it "is a challenge" to update policies that regulate technology and "when does the government have a right to know."

There's a debate, he said, over when that's appropriate.

"These issues will be decided in Congress," Gates concluded later.

Our original post continues:

Consumers who are concerned about the case are planning to hold demonstrations at Apple's retail stores in 40 U.S. cities as well as at the FBI's headquarters in Washington on Tuesday.

Gates' remarks were published shortly after Zuckerberg also addressed the controversy, in a speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

"We're sympathetic with Apple on this one. We believe in encryption," Zuckerberg said, according to re/code. "I expect it's not the right thing to try to block that from the mainstream products people want to use. And I think it's not going to be the right regulatory or economic policy to put in place."

Gates' views set him apart from the public stance his company has taken. As part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition — a group of technology giants that also includes Apple and Facebook — Microsoft joined a statement that acknowledges the challenges and goals of law enforcement, and also states, "But technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users' information secure."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has used Twitter to air his views on the government's request. As NPR's All Tech Considered has noted, he wrote that companies that build secure devices should help the police, "But that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent."

While many notable tech insiders seem to side with Apple in their opposition to a court order to help the FBI defeat an iPhone's password security, a recent poll finds that the American public leans slightly in favor of law enforcement on the question.

A new poll by the Pew Research Center has found that 51 percent of Americans think Apple should cooperate with the FBI, 38 percent say Apple should resist the order, and 11 percent aren't sure.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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