Bill Gates’ Thoughts on the Government Forcing Tech Companies to Unlock Phones

There’s been an ongoing situation between the government and Apple on whether or not the creators of the iPhone should be forced to unlock phones when it might help them solve a crime. Bill Gates recently added his thoughts on the controversy.

There was one crime in particular where this became an issue. In December 2015 a husband and wife teamed up and went on a terrorist attack at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California, with about 80 employees in attendance.

The couple shot 14 people while 22 others are injured. While both of them were of Pakistani descent, the FBI did not believe they were connected to any foreign terrorist network and believe their extremism was from being poisoned over the Internet.


During the investigation the FBI was unable to unlock an iPhone 5C they had recovered after the attack. It was owned by the county and was issued to one of the shooters who was an employee.

They asked the National Security Agency to break into the phone, but they were unable to. They asked Apple to create a new version of iOS so that it could be used to disable the security features. Apple declined based on policy.

They were then court ordered to do so, but they fought this, as they feared creating a backdoor would pose risks to their customers. They did, however, provide the F.B.I. with four different methods that could be used to access the contents.

Eventually the Department of Justice was able to unlock the phone, and it was thought to have been done through a hack. Neither the method used nor the hacker who was successful with it were ever identified.

After that initial instance, there were other situations that popped up of Apple refusing to create software that would allow the government access to the contents of their secure phones. It’s now brought up the question of whether or not tech companies should be forced to unlock their phones, and Gates gave his thoughts on it.


The companies need to be careful that they’re not … advocating things that would prevent government from being able to, under appropriate review, perform the type of functions that we’ve come to count on,” said the founder of Microsoft.

He mentioned companies’ “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.”

He also doesn’t believe it’s a question of the government’s ability to unlock a phone but a question of “willingness.”

Gates has concerns that technology may be empowering groups who have nefarious intentions. “There’s always the question how much technology is empowering a small group of people to cause damage … Smaller groups might have access to … nuclear weapons or, even worse, bioterror or cyber” weapons.

While the businessman doesn’t come out and say he thought Apple was wrong to deny access, his wording makes it clear he thinks there was more they could have done.

It’s easy to see why he couldn’t come right out and say he believed Apple was wrong, as both sides of the situation have advantages.

We want phones that are ultra secure. We want phones that aren’t able to be easily broken into or hacked. However, we also don’t want nefarious-minded individuals to be able to use that to their advantage.

How do you feel in his matter? Do you think Apple should provide access to their phones in these instances? Or do you think they are in the right protecting access and their customers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development for Gates photo, all other images public domaain

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