Bill Gates: I didn't exactly side with the FBI over Apple in Farook case

Did Bill Gates take the FBI’s side over Apple’s defense of privacy on the dispute over terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone? Not exactly, Gates later claimed, but his interview with the Financial Times certainly suggested otherwise, at least at first blush. Gates downplayed Apple’s position and analogized it to cutting a ribbon rather than cutting all ribbons:

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.

“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.

“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’.”

Needless to say, this wouldn’t be the first time that Gates put himself in opposition to Apple. But did Gates actually take the FBI’s side as the media has reported, or speak about the case more in the sense of an analyst? Gates offered support for the FBI in the sense that there are times when the government has a legitimate claim on accessing information, and that the courts should make that determination, and voters should set those parameters. He also appears to be criticizing Apple’s public argument on this, saying that he doesn’t see this as an all-or-nothing case. However, Gates never actually says explicitly that he opposes Apple’s overall position in this specific case. Yet FT headlines the story, “Bill Gates backs FBI iPhone request,” and news outlets appear to have run with it based on FT’s reporting.

Interviewed by Bloomberg this morning, Gates pronounced himself disappointed with the media’s reaction to this brief interview:

Gates apparently didn’t understand the impression he left by criticizing Apple’s argument. It’s certainly fair to assume that Gates is skeptical of the idea that sweeping freedoms are at stake in this fight after watching both interviews. Absent that issue, what’s the objection to ordering Apple to force the phone open? That may not be the same as siding with the FBI, but it’s in the ballpark. But Gates is correct that the reporting today overshot the mark and put words into his mouth that he didn’t utter.