In Apple’s legal fight with the FBI over giving law enforcement a backdoor into iPhones, the tech community has either stayed quiet or sided with Apple. One prominent name, however, has broken ranks, as Bill Gates is insisting Apple should do it.
Gates, interviewed by the Financial Times, agrees with the Justice Department’s argument that this won’t be a permanent state of affairs and that it’s one phone. Gates compares it to a bank tying a ribbon around their records and insisting that it can’t open those records. Indeed, the Justice Department has stated that Apple can code the software, open the phone, and then destroy the code; it won’t have to provide the Justice Department any tools.
That said, though, both Gates and the Justice Department aren’t addressing the more important question of legal precedent. The Justice Department has already tried to force Apple to open up iPhones in federal court, and was told, rather definitively, that Apple was under no obligation to decrypt or assist in decrypting iPhones. It’s difficult to see how there’s any fundamental difference between what was asked of Apple then and what’s being outright demanded by the Justice Department now. And the problem remains: Once the Justice Department does it once, it creates a legal standard to do it again.
It seems likely that Apple and the FBI will be heading to court over this argument, and it may decide the future of privacy. Until then, it’s worth asking, in light of the Justice Department’s powers in other areas, why it needs this specific phone open.