Credit Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
The federal government on Tuesday picked up a powerful ally in its standoff with Apple.
Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft, publicly broke with Apple in its clash with the Justice Department over access to an iPhone that belonged to an attacker in the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
Speaking with The Financial Times, Mr. Gates endorsed the United States governmentâs position that a judgeâs order to help investigators hack into the phone would not set a harmful precedent.
âThis is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,â Mr. Gates told the newspaper. âThey are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case.â
Since Apple challenged the court ruling on the phone last week, most technology industry leaders have either lined up behind Apple or stayed silent. Several prominent Silicon Valley leaders â including Mark Zuckerberg, Facebookâs chief executive; Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chief executive of Twitter; and Sundar Pichai, Googleâs chief executive â have publicly closed ranks in support of Appleâs position that the order poses an unacceptable threat to user privacy.
Appleâs chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, has forcefully argued that an order by a federal magistrate judge to assist the government in unlocking the accused terroristâs phone would open a so-called back door to consumer phones that could obliterate the privacy protections.
âAt stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyoneâs civil liberties,â Mr. Cook said in an internal email sent to Apple employees this week.
The government has portrayed its request as limited in nature, a one-time demand focused on a single device, the work phone issued to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino gunmen who killed 14 people late last year.
The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James B. Comey Jr., made the case in a public statement on Sunday. âWe simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terroristâs passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly,â he said. âThatâs it. We donât want to break anyoneâs encryption or set a master key loose on the land.â
Mr. Gates told The Financial Times that society benefits from the governmentâs ability to investigate and thwart terror plots, though he acknowledged some rules are needed to protect information.
The order was issued on Feb. 16 by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of Federal District Court for the District of Central California. Apple has until Friday to file a formal brief opposing the order to cooperate with the F.B.I.