Gates backs FBI's bid to unlock iPhone

PARIS • Microsoft founder Bill Gates is backing the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation in its stand-off with Apple over unlocking an iPhone belonging to a shooter in last year's deadly San Bernardino attacks, The Financial Times reported.

Breaking ranks with Silicon Valley companies that support Apple in its refusal to hack the phone of one of the attackers, Mr Gates said in an interview with the newspaper published yesterday that technology companies should be forced to cooperate with law enforcement in terrorism investigations.

Mr Gates, the highest-profile industry figure to speak out in favour of the US government's stance, also disagreed with Apple chief executive Tim Cook's claim that the government was looking for a "back door" into phones and that compliance would set a wider precedent, it said.

"This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information," he said. "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."

Mr Gate's opinion also appeared to diverge from that of his own company, which is part of an industry coalition that backed Mr Cook's warning.

On Sunday, FBI director James Comey said the litigation over the phone is narrowly focused and "isn't about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message".

The Times report comes a day after a poll indicated that a majority of Americans also back the FBI in its battle with Apple.

The Pew Research Centre survey found 51 per cent of respondents supported the effort to require Apple to help unlock the iPhone, while 38 per cent said Apple should not unlock the phone to ensure the security of other users' communications.

Apple's challenge of a court order to unlock the phone opens up a new front in the long-running battle between technology companies and the government over encryption.

US magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple last week to provide "reasonable technical assistance" to the FBI, including disabling an auto-erase feature after too many unsuccessful attempts are made to unlock the iPhone 5C.

Apple rejected the order, saying it was "too dangerous" to create such a back door.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Gates backs FBI's bid to unlock iPhone'. Print Edition | Subscribe