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Bill Gates has no real position on Apple vs. FBI

Bill Gates has no real position on Apple vs. FBI

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Even Bill Gates isn't quite sure what Apple should do about encryption. Gates weighed in on the Apple vs. FBI controversy during a Reddit AMA this afternoon, arguing that a balance needs to be struck between security and the ability to provide law enforcement with critical information — but he indicated that it was unclear to him where that line should be drawn. "This case will be viewed as the start of a discussion," he writes. "For tech companies there needs to be some consistency including how governments work with each other. The sooner we modernize the laws the better."

"There is no avoiding this debate."

When asked what suggestion he would offer Apple, Gates responded that Apple should start trying to figure out how to balance privacy and security. "Maybe they could propose an overall plan for striking the balance between government being able to know things in some cases and having safeguards to make sure those powers are confined to appropriate cases," Gates writes. "There is no avoiding this debate and they could contribute to how the balance should be struck." He doesn't have a specific course of action to suggest, only writing that Apple should elevate the discussion. Gates made a similar comment last month, saying that "striking [a] balance" is important here.

That's the same thing we're hearing from major tech and political figures who don't want to take a hard line against encryption but don't want to unconditionally support it either. Gates clearly understands its privacy benefits, but he makes his security concerns known as well. "What if we had never had wiretapping?" he writes. "I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data, but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense."

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made similar remarks on Monday, saying, "There has got to be some way to avoid breaking data encryption and opening the door to a lot of bad actors. But there has to be some way to follow up on criminal activity and prevent crimes and terrorism." Mark Zuckerberg defended encryption and said it shouldn't be blocked last month, but he also noted that his company has "a pretty big responsibility" to help combat terrorism.

The open question is: how is that possible while still fully protecting everyone else's data? It's clearly a difficult topic. No major solutions have been put forward, and the general consensus from top tech figures so far has largely amounted to "We should probably talk about it." Over at Apple, Tim Cook has been pushing for the issue to be taken up by Congress. There would be plenty of lobbying, of course. But getting a debate started in DC would mean that someone else has to figure out where to draw that line.

The Apple vs. FBI debate