Bill Gates on Tuesday split from other tech industry leaders in not directly supporting Apple's refusal to help the government unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Gates, the founder of tech giant Microsoft, told The Financial Times that the government is not seeking a “back door” to the iPhone, as Apple CEO Tim Cook and digital rights advocates have argued.
“This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,” Gates said. “They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case,” 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,” he added.
Gates later clarified that his remarks were not necessarily backing the FBI's court order.
"That doesn’t state my view on this," he told Bloomberg TV. "I’m hoping now we can have a discussion."
"I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind," he added, saying the issue will ultimately be settled in the courts and in Congress.
Apple and the FBI are locked in a standoff over a court order issued last week.
Law enforcement officials want Apple to develop software that would help them bypass a security feature on an iPhone that causes the phone to erase its own memory if an incorrect password is inputted 10 times in a row.
FBI Director James Comey argued in a statement Sunday that this request is “quite narrow.”
“We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land,” he said.
But Apple has characterized such software as a dangerous “back door” that other hackers could exploit to get into every iPhone.
Silicon Valley has stood firm behind Apple since it defied the order last week. The heads of Facebook, Twitter and Google have all defended Cook’s argument. Major tech industry trade groups have also expressed concerns about the precedent the court order could set.
Current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has not yet spoken publicly on the topic. A spokesperson pointed The Financial Times to a statement opposing the order from the trade group Reform Government Surveillance, which represents Microsoft.
Gates said there needs to be a broader discussion about when government should be able to access information.
“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.