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2/23/2016
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Bill Gates Weighs In On Apple Vs. FBI Encryption Battle

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates adds his opinion to the Apple vs. FBI debate. The government has demanded Apple grant access to the locked iPhone of a suspected terrorist.

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The debate between Apple and the FBI has sparked a transformative discussion about how far the government can reach in demanding access to information stored on consumer devices.

The FBI is trying to access information stored on the iPhone 5c of Syed Farook, one of two suspects killed by police after he and his wife carried out the Dec. 14 San Bernardino terrorist attacks. Apple has been ordered to create a version of iOS designed to bypass security so the FBI can brute-force the passcode and unlock it.

Apple has denied the requests. In a letter to the public, CEO Tim Cook explained how such a version of iOS would be akin to a master key, which could be used to unlock any iPhone once it is created. He claims this "backdoor" is something Apple considers "too dangerous to create."

[FAQ: What you need to know about the Apple vs. FBI debate.]

Leaders across Silicon Valley have voiced their support for Apple's decision to oppose the court order. However, one notable figure has so far remained silent.

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates has begun to jump into the discussion. Gates claims it is "worth having a debate" about the FBI's request, but ultimately the government should be able to access information to learn more about terrorist threats.

"I think we expect governments to find out everything they can about terrorism," he said in an interview with the BBC. "Particularly when the threat [is] not just of conventional terrorism, but of nuclear and biological terrorism.

"Should government be able to access information at all, or should they be blind?" he continued. "That's essentially what we're talking about."

In a separate conversation with the Financial Times (subscription required), Gates stated how government access to the iPhone shouldn't be considered "some special thing," but similar to requests for phone company information or bank records.

"Nobody's talking about a backdoor," he said in the interview, going against Cook's rhetoric. "This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing; they are asking for a particular case."

Gates claims Apple has access to the information but is refusing to give it. The courts will ultimately decide whether Apple has to provide the data in question, he continued.

Does this mean Gates has officially sided with the government in this situation? Not necessarily. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, he claimed he was "disappointed" by myriad reports stating he was backing the FBI.

"That doesn't state my view on this," he said.

(Image: The World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: The World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons)

Gates noted how government access to information is valuable "with the right safeguards," especially for stopping terrorism. However, it's important to strike a balance between government knowledge and consumer privacy.

"Clearly the government has taken information historically and used it in ways we didn't expect," he said. "I'm hoping now we can have the discussion. I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn't have to be completely blind."

What does this mean for the Apple vs. FBI case? "The courts are going to decide," he replied, repeating his answer to the Financial Times.

Current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has not openly voiced his opinion, but it has been implied he sides with Cook and the majority of the tech industry. The Financial Times reports a Microsoft spokesperson pointed to a statement from Reform Government Surveillance (RGS), which rejects the FBI's demand.

While it acknowledges the importance of deterring terrorists, the RGS states "technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users' information secure." Microsoft is a member of the organization.

It appears consumers tend to disagree with Silicon Valley on the matter. Pew Research, which conducted a survey among 1,002 adults, discovered 51% believe Apple should unlock Farook's iPhone and 38% disagree.

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Kelly is an associate editor for InformationWeek. She most recently reported on financial tech for Insurance & Technology, before which she was a staff writer for InformationWeek and InformationWeek Education. When she's not catching up on the latest in tech, Kelly enjoys ... View Full Bio

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TroyASr
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TroyASr,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2016 | 2:28:01 PM
Re: FBI vs Apple
Gary,

If Apple was simply saying "no" out of some misguided attempt at protecting the individual terrorist, then your example might more closely apply. But that is not what is going on here - they are being asked to create NEW technology to allow the FBI to attempt a brute-force attack on their security measures.

Therefore, your point is missing Apple's "place" or role in this scenario. In your example of paper writings from the terrorist, Apple would have been a super-micro Cross-Cut paper shedder manufacturer that was used by the terrorist right before he died. Then the FBI found the tiny shreds of paper, and handed them to Apple, and got a court order that said, "You must go create a machine to un-shred these papers so we can read them."

If somehow they COULD even pull of this miracle, no one would ever buy an Apple shredder again because they would not feel they were safely protecting their data from the bad guys.

Apple is an innocent, non-party in this case. They should not be compelled to weaken and possibly destroy their own product, and they should definitely not have to do it as "forced labor without pay". 

 
DavidG047
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DavidG047,
User Rank: Strategist
2/26/2016 | 8:21:22 PM
Re: FBI vs Apple
I agree with you, in the end Apple must do what is best for Apple. This case just so happens will end up being one of the defining events of privacy vs safety in the modern digital age. We will look back at this years from now and realize how important this case was. 
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2016 | 8:07:18 PM
Re: FBI vs Apple
Thank you @Gary_El, could not agree more...
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2016 | 7:55:46 PM
Re: FBI vs Apple

@DavidG047    You make some excellent points, but we also have to remember Apple does not want to lose the trust of their user base either.  

Apple has touted the security of these phones since Jobs, and we can only imagine how much business they might lose if a post Jobs turn in policy were ever carried out.

DavidG047
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DavidG047,
User Rank: Strategist
2/26/2016 | 7:45:03 PM
Apple vs FBI
We updated our information after the Apple filing as well as uncovered information that seems to indicate that the FBI may have already cracked this phone and this is all a "thin edge of the blade" case for the Justice Department. We have also updated all legal summaries as well as other interesting links.

https://articles.azstec.com/

 
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2016 | 7:40:31 PM
Re: FBI vs Apple

"...I find it humorous Bill Gates decided to weigh in on this. His product never had this problem, it enabled the malware infested world we live in. Who needs a court order, a 10 year old with an internet connection and a laptop can get whatever they want out of his products."

 

@TerryB   I find it humorous as well.   Who knew he had so much time on his hands especially with all the humanitarian work he is supposed to be doing.  

Hey, Bill got news for you, humanity can still use some help.  Focus.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2016 | 7:30:04 PM
Re: What's Google's stand?

@nasimson   That is a great point.  Are we to believe that criminals and terrorist only use iPhones ?   I would like to know what Google's stance is on this as well - I have an uneasy feeling that they have a much more relaxed position towards Government petitions for data. 

 

I really hope I am wrong though.

nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
2/25/2016 | 8:37:06 AM
What's Google's stand?
What is Google's stand on all this? It would be surprising if FBI hasn't asked Google of a back door in Android. And Google wouldn't have provided it.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
2/24/2016 | 1:20:54 PM
Re: FBI vs Apple
The iPhone was not encrypted with the intention of keeping the government out, it was to keep bad guys out. Creating any mechanism for subverting that, whether you call it a backdoor or not, defeats that purpose. The government can't guarantee their access won't be subverted by someone else, those morons can't even keep our IRS data safe. Or my VA nurse wife identity information secure. Apple is just trying to keep people from stealing our money and our identity. Like all good things, the bad guys will find ways to take advantage of that for their purposes.

I find it humorous Bill Gates decided to weigh in on this. His product never had this problem, it enabled the malware infested world we live in. Who needs a court order, a 10 year old with an internet connection and a laptop can get whatever they want out of his products.

Where does this end? A ban on apps like Snapchat which autodestroy communications? No end to end encryption because you can't wiretap anymore? Just where do you want to draw this line so court orders can be enforced?

Technology is pretty much here where all of us can be GPS tracked and video monitored at all times. Gov can certainly argue that would make us all safer and make crime fighting so much easier for them. We ready for that? And in the end, does any of that protect you from the nutcases in San Benadino or Kalamazoo? To live is to risk dying and at some point the reduction in risk becomes marginal, you'll never make it zero.

 
DavidG047
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DavidG047,
User Rank: Strategist
2/24/2016 | 9:57:20 AM
Re: FBI vs Apple
Thanks for responding with a thoughtful post. Since the technology did not exist back then it is impossible to create what if's, and even if we could your analogy is not sound, since there are no letters laying around. I agree with you, the last thing we want is tech giants directing policy, and even worse is having an overbearing and intrusive government, which our founding fathers were very aware of and put in place protections against. The cost of liberty and freedoms in the US has its price and this means that the bad guys sometimes get to take advantage of those freedoms. The opening up of that iPhone for example would cost us much more if the other bad guys, hackers, foreign governments, etc got access to the process (which they would if they existed) and nearly every cybersecurity expert agrees with Apple on this one.

If you read our blog and all of the backup links you will get the full story but Apple was already helping the FBI, and because of their (FBI's) incompetence in securing evidence properly they may have rendered the information un-retrievable. The FBI and Justice Department are now asking for something that goes well beyond this one phone.

https://articles.azstec.com/encryption-backdoor-battle-government-sues-apple/

 
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