from the understand-the-issues-before-speaking-out-bill dept
The Microsoft founder took issue with Tim Cook’s characterisation of the government’s order that Apple help break open the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone as a demand for a “back door”, denying that it would set a wider precedent.Later in the article, he suggests that there should be times that information cannot be fully encrypted:
“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’.” “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,” Mr Gates told the Financial Times.
Mr Gates told the FT that there were benefits to the government being able to enforce taxation, stop crime and investigate terror threats, but said there must be rules on when the information can be accessed.Of course, seeing as (1) it's Bill Gates and (2) basically everyone else in the tech industry has come out siding with Apple, this story spread pretty quickly, leading Gates to then jump onto Bloomberg TV to claim that it was a misrepresentation to say he sided with the FBI:
“I hope that we have that debate so that the safeguards are built and so people do not opt — and this will be country by country — [to say] it is better that the government does not have access to any information,” he said.
I was disappointed, because that doesn’t state my view on this. I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf — like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future — that that is valuable. But striking that balance — clearly the government [has] taken information, historically, and used it in ways that we didn’t expect, going all the way back, say to the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. So I’m hoping now we can have the discussion. I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind.So basically, it seems that (once again) everyone is a bit confused about this. Gates' initial answer was a bit wishy-washy and doesn't actually get at the actual issue. He focuses on the question of the precedent -- and he's just flat out wrong on that. He's right that the DOJ in this case is asking for a very specific thing, but setting the precedent that they can get that very specific thing will mean that similar things will be asked for in other cases -- and he is wrong that it won't put overall security at risk. The precedent here is everything, because once in place similar rulings can be used to proactively undermine security systems. That's a big deal, even if Gates doesn't recognize it.
[....] The courts are going to decide this. … In the meantime, that gives us this opportunity to get the discussion. And these issues will be decided in Congress.
Gates also totally misrepresents the issue by talking about how law enforcement needs to enforce the law and stop crime. That's a tautology. Everyone knows that. But that does not mean it needs to force companies to build systems to hack their customers. It's a completely different question. Meanwhile, his "backing off" of the FT's headline is still confused. No one's saying that the government is completely blind. They have a ton of other information. Gates is, unfortunately, buying into the myth that the FBI needs everything. But that's never been the way that the law works. We have a 4th amendment (and hell, a number of other amendments, including the 5th) for good reasons: and one of those reasons is that we expect the job of law enforcement to be hard. And that's because convicting someone of a crime shouldn't be easy. And we do that on the belief that if we make the job hard, we're a lot less likely to convict innocent people.
It's too bad that Gates doesn't appear to fully understand the issue, and is allowing yet more misinformation into this debate.