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Tech Giants Weigh In on Apple-FBI Dispute

  • VOA News

FILE - An iPhone in Washington, Feb. 17, 2016.

FILE - An iPhone in Washington, Feb. 17, 2016.

Giants of the technology industry have begun adding their voices to the dispute between Apple and the U.S. government, with Microsoft founder Bill Gates seemingly differing from the pack.

While many tech executives have voiced their full support for Apple CEO Tim Cook, Gates took a decidedly different view of the issue Tuesday.

During an interview with The Financial Times, Gates disputed concerns voiced by Cook that creating software to break into the phone of one of the killers in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting would become a "master key" for access to any iPhone. "They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case," he said.

His comments put him at odds with other top names in Silicon Valley including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who have stepped forward in support of Apple.

Bill Gates talks to reporters about the 2016 annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2016.

Bill Gates talks to reporters about the 2016 annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2016.

Later in the day, Gates told Bloomberg news that the courts will ultimately make the decision in the Apple case. "In the meantime, that gives us this opportunity to get the discussion, and these issues will be decided in Congress."

Planned Protests

Meanwhile, supporters of Apple planned to protest in more than 40 cities. A digital rights group called Fight for the Future is organizing the events at Apple stores in places such as New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Hong Kong and London. It says it is critically important to support efforts to keep personal information safe, and that devices will become more vulnerable if the government wins its legal battle with Apple.

U.S. authorities want Apple's help to unlock a phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who, along with his wife Tafsheen Malik, killed 14 people last year in San Bernardino, California.

Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

Apple has refused, saying the FBI is asking for what amounts to a backdoor around the company's security measures, and that, in the wrong hands, in the furture that software would make countless Apple users vulnerable to searches of their phones.

A federal magistrate ordered Apple to help the FBI last week, and the government filed a motion asking the court to force Apple to comply. The order says Apple must help authorities bypass an auto-erase feature that wipes out data when 10 incorrect passwords are entered. The FBI does not know Farook's password, and needs the auto-erase feature disabled so it can repeatedly try password combinations to find the right one.

Apple has until Friday to file its opposition to the government's motion, and a hearing in the case is scheduled for March 22.&

FILE - These then-new Apple iPhone 5c models were on display in at Tokyo store, Sept. 20, 2013. A 5c is at the center of Apple's battle with the FBI over efforts to break the company's proprietary auto-destruct security system.

FILE - These then-new Apple iPhone 5c models were on display in at Tokyo store, Sept. 20, 2013. A 5c is at the center of Apple's battle with the FBI over efforts to break the company's proprietary auto-destruct security system.

The Pew Research Center released a survey Monday of more than 1,000 people with 51 percent of them saying Apple should unlock the iPhone and 38 percent siding with the company. Eleven percent had no opinion.

A lawyer representing some relatives of the 14 people killed in San Bernardino said he would soon file a statement supporting the judge's order requiring Apple to help authorities.

Apple is continuing its fight against the order, with chief executive Tim Cook on Monday telling the firm's customers that the U.S. government's demands are "chilling."

In an open letter to millions of its customers, Cook said the technology giant has "no sympathy for terrorists." But he said building a tool to access Farook's phone would leave Apple users vulnerable to searches of their financial and health records and monitoring of their location and the pictures they take.

"No reasonable person would find that acceptable," Cook said.

'About victims and justice'

FBI Director James Comey insisted the government is not trying to set any precedent for future cases or "set a master key loose on the land," which Cook contends is exactly what would happen.

Comey said "it is about the victims and justice," and that the tensions between privacy and safety should not be resolved by corporations or the FBI, but rather the American people.

Cook said that if the FBI wins the case and forces Apple to create a backdoor into its iPhones, law enforcement agents from throughout the U.S. "have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock."

He said Apple believes "the only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn't abused and doesn't fall into the wrong hands is to never create it." Cook also suggested the formation of a "commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms,” adding that Apple would take part in such an effort.

The case is the latest to showcase the frustrations of law enforcement officials who complain that newer encryption methods used by companies like Apple make it harder to carry out investigations involving the use of technology by criminal suspects. Apple strengthened encryption of its phones in 2014 amid increased public concern about digital privacy.

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