What Bill Gates said, and didn’t say, about the Apple FBI story

Kareem Anderson

According to a story surfacing from the Financial Times, Bill Gates’s position on the Apple vs. the FBI phone request is one in which the former Microsoft CEO is all for supporting the government’s intrusion on personal security. The story even punctuates Gates arguably controversial stance one the matter with a crystal clear headline that reads, “Bill Gates backs FBI iPhone hack request.”

Mr. Gates’s stance sets him apart from the rest of the technology industry, including the company he founded. Satya Nadella, Microsoft chief, has not publicly commented on the matter, but a spokesperson for the Seattle-based company pointed to a statement by the Reform Government Surveillance organization, of which it is a member, opposing the order.”

Unfortunately, the Financial Times may have been a bit premature with its analysis of Gates position, and ultimately delivered a story not entirely supporting what he said. Ironically, the Financial Times also released the video interview that it used to garner its potentially controversial headline, and in it, Gates’s response is much more subtle as he dances around who he supports in the publicized case.

During the video interview, Gates weighs the options of both Apple and the FBI as far as what is possible and what could be done to the phone in question rather than stating which side he believes is right in this situation. When asked about Apple’s positioning and whether the company is in the right to deny the FBI their special request, Gates explains:

Apple has access to the information, they’re just refusing to provide the access, and the courts will tell them whether to provide the access or not. You shouldn’t call the access some special thing.

Perhaps in an effort to put a scope around the nuances of the case, Gates draws on the analogous comparison of requests given to phone carriers or banks for personal information.

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 around the disk drive and said, ‘Don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times.”

In the end, Gates leaves it up to the courts and their decision on the matter, while also encouraging a formal discussion of similar instances and situations that may arise in the future. Despite Gates’s several attempts at sidestepping a direct answer based on personal bias, he was ultimately tagged by the Financial Times as a backer of the FBI due to his non-answer allowing the slightest of editorial interpretation.

While the intent of the Financial Times story is probably not so nefarious as conducting a full character smear campaign, the proliferation of the story in general does shine a light on how eager news sites sometimes are to produce headlines that draw the eye, regardless of the story that follows.