Bill Gates Backs FBI in Hacking Row, Apple Asserts it Has Done Everything 'Within the Law'

 Bill Gates Melinda Gates
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 Bill Gates and his wife Melinda attend the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 11, 2015 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

It’s the war of words between the world’s biggest company (Apple) and the United States’ domestic intelligence and security service (FBI), and now the wealthiest man on the planet (Bill Gates) has entered the fray. And he’s choosing sides with the government. 

The Microsoft founder has hit back at Tim Cook’s open letter in which the Apple chief executive revealed the FBI had asked his tech giant to develop a way to hack into the encrypted phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, creating a so-called “back door” he argued which could be surreptitiously used to unlock any or all of Apple's encrypted devices. 

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"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 told the Financial Times. "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. 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’.”

With his comments on the matter, Gates is at odds with many leading figures from the tech industry. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have sided with Apple, while Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg told the Mobile World Congress his company was “sympathetic” with Apple. "I don't think that requiring back doors to encryption is either going to be an effective thing to increase security or is really the right thing to do," he told delegates in Barcelona. "We are pretty sympathetic to Tim [Cook] and Apple."

Apple has since posted a follow-up to its leader’s public message in which it hits back at suggestions its objection to creating the “back door” was based on concern for its own business model and marketing strategy. 

“Absolutely not. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the company explains. “This is and always has been about our customers. We feel strongly that if we were to do what the government has asked of us — to create a backdoor to our products — not only is it unlawful, but it puts the vast majority of good and law abiding citizens, who rely on iPhone to protect their most personal and important data, at risk.”

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Up until recently, Apple routinely helped law enforcement officials unlock phones deemed important to an investigation. (According to the New York Times, the company provided data in response to more than 3,000 requests in the first half of 2015.) But it stopped helping when it involved devices loaded with its encrypted operating system, iOS 8, and last fall stopped altogether even with phones using earlier, non-encrypted OS.

In its latest FAQ (which can be read here), Apple asserts: “We have done everything that’s both within our power and within the law to help in this case. As we’ve said, we have no sympathy for terrorists.”