Bill Gates on FBI/Apple: We need to modernize the laws ASAP

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in his fourth Reddit AMA, continued to try to walk a fine line by not taking a definitive position on the FBI/Apple case.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in his fourth Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit, took another stab at explaining his position on the FBI/Apple situation.


And like he did the first time around, Gates attempted to walk a fine line, neither completely supporting Apple nor the government, in his March 8 answer to a question on his stance on the ongoing case.

"I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information. What if we had never had wiretapping?" Gates told Redditors.

"Also the government needs to talk openly about safeguards. Right now a lot of people don't think the government has the right checks to make sure information is only used in criminal situations. So this case will be viewed as the start of a discussion. 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. A lot of countries like the UK and France are also going through this debate. For tech companies there needs to be some consistency including how governments work with each other. The sooner we modernize the laws the better," he added.

When asked a follow-up about what he would do if he were Apple, Gates again attempted to tread lightly.

"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 replied. "There is no avoiding this debate and they could contribute to how the balance should be struck."

In February, the FBI brought a case against Apple to compel it to help its agents break into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, an attack that killed 14 people and injured dozens more. Apple has refused, arguing that it can't crack the encryption, and lodged a formal appeal.

Gates complained after his first attempt to explain his position on the FBI/Apple case last month that his stance wasn't accurately portrayed by the media. (I think the media just were looking for a more definitive and straightforward answer than Gates gave.)

Gates touched on a number of other health, education and futures topics during his AMA. He also posted a photo of himself recreating his high-school yearbook photo as a way of authenticating himself. (That's from where the embedded picture of him above comes.)

He also revealed that he recently switched to using a Microsoft Surface Book and that he prefers its keyboard to his previous Surface tablet keyboard. He said he detaches the Surface Book screen "a few times" per week.

Gates lamented that his chair-jumping days are over. Alas for those hoping for a last-minute Gates presidential bid, Gate said he would prefer his current job as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to being president of the U.S.

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