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Bill Gates sides with FBI on Apple encryption fight, says scope is limited to one iPhone

Source: Forbes

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said he disagrees with Apple's decision to not provide the FBI with a software workaround that breaks iOS, and instead sides with a narrow reading of the government's request for assistance that supposedly precludes wider dissemination of the as-yet-uncreated expoit.

Gates weighed in on the hot button topic on Tuesday, telling the Financial Times that technology companies, including Apple, should comply with government requests for assistance pertaining to investigations into terrorist activity. Further, he disputes Apple's claims that the creation of a so-called backdoor would set precedent both for the Justice Department and international state players looking to get their hands on consumer data.

"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 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. 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'."

The U.S. Department of Justice, as well as FBI Director James Comey and the White House, argue much the same, noting the requested software workaround would be limited to an iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. A federal magistrate judge last week ordered Apple comply with FBI requests to assist in the unlocking of Farook's iPhone, which is currently protected by a passcode.

For its part, Apple and CEO Tim Cook contend that the mere existence of a proof-of-concept exploit inherently weakens iOS safeguards, which is why the company is pushing back in court. Apple has been working with law enforcement officials on the San Bernardino case since January, and in doing so provided iCloud backups associated with Farook's device.

Despite a cavalcade of tech industry bigwigs coming out in support of Apple, a Pew Research Center poll on Monday showed a majority of respondents side with the government. It is unclear if the poll group understood the underlying digital security issues, as 51 percent of respondents said Apple should "unlock the iPhone."

The situation is made more confusing with the DOJ's side campaign for public opinion. It came out over the weekend that U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos asked a California lawyer Stephen Larson to file an amicus brief on behalf of the government. Larson's filing represents an unknown number of victims and families affected by the San Bernardino attack.