On Tuesday, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released their annual letter, and this document combined with the interview with Axios raise some questions about Gates’ position regarding information privacy – largely due to his suggestions that Apple adjust iPhone security to facilitate information collection by the United States government.
As the influence of technology on our lives continues to increase, lawmakers across both parties have started to take a look at a potential way to collect information they deem important to security concerns. Microsoft’s interactions with the United States government have been largely criticized by the rest of the tech industry, but Bill Gates’ statement about iPhone security and the actions of Apple and other Tech Giants seem unapologetic – rather reinforcing his concerns regarding the direction of technology.
“The companies need to be careful that they’re…not advocating things that would prevent the government from being able to, under appropriate review, perform the type of functions that we’ve come to count on.”
Axios pressed Bill Gates regarding the statement, asking for an example of behavior from the tech industry he finds questionable, with the Microsoft mogul stating that “enthusiasm about making financial transactions anonymous and invisible, and their view that even a clear mass-murdering criminal’s communication should never be available to the government” is especially concerning. Gates then confirmed that he was referring to the issue of iPhone security and the company’s refusal to cooperate with the government in providing information from their phones, stating that, “there’s no question of ability; it’s the question of willingness.”
Despite the implications, Gates stated that “nobody’s talking about a backdoor,” which is perplexing given the fact that the government has been requesting increased access to Apple devices for quite some time. What exactly that statement means is a little unclear. Whether he’s insisting that Apple currently has the ability to install a backdoor in their devices despite their insistence otherwise, or whether he asserts that they should develop that ability remains to be seen. Either way, it’s clear that Gates isn’t a fan of Apple’s policy regarding iPhone security and their lack of cooperation with the government.
For Gates, national security takes precedence over individual privacy – for better or for worse. Gizmodo reports that back in 2016, Gates stood far removed from the tech industry regarding the request for the FBI to help break into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter, stating that “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.”
Regardless of Bill Gates’ wishes for iPhone to adjust iPhone security to facilitate data collection from governmental agencies, companies like Apple and Facebook retain the position that individual privacy should not be compromised, and Apple continues to state that they don’t actually have the ability to add access due to the inherent encryption in the iPhone security design. There’s no doubt that Bill Gates and Microsoft are major influencers in the Tech industry, but it appears that in this case, his opinion clashes with other large technology companies that continue to fight for the protection of private information.