Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates believes Apple should help unlock an iPhone for the FBI.
Gates is the latest powerful tech leader to voice his opinions on the heated security debate that has arisen after Apple announced it wasn't going to assist the FBI hack into an iPhone 5C that belonged to a suspected terrorist.
The Microsoft cofounder told The Financial Times on Monday that Apple should comply with the FBI, dismissing Cook's claims that it will set a wider precedent of law enforcement agencies hacking into citizen's phones.
"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.'"
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A US judge last week ordered Apple to assist the FBI in its attempt to access encrypted data on the iPhone of Syed Farook, one of the two San Bernardino shooters. But Apple argues doing so would create a dangerous precedent and make all iPhone users less safe. CEO Tim Cook argues that the move "would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect."
Silicon Valley executives including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai have all endorsed Cook's decision. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is yet to comment on the matter but the Reform Government Surveillance organisation, of which Microsoft is a member, opposes the order.
Cook wrote an open letter last week saying he would fight the FBI over its demand to build what Apple alleges is a backdoor in the iPhone.
The FBI wants Apple to remove the limit on the number of times the phone's passcode can be tried before the data on the phone is automatically erased. It also wants Apple to modify its iOS operating system so passcodes can be input electronically. Apple argues that this workaround would later be open to abuse.
Read more reaction to the security debate:
"The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone," Cook's letter read. "But that's simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable."
FBI Director James Comey published a blog post on the specialist legal site Lawfare on Sunday titled "We Could Not Look the Survivors in the Eye if We Did Not Follow this Lead."
"The San Bernardino litigation isn't about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message," wrote Comey in the blog. "It is about the victims and justice."