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Bill Gates Sides With FBI In Battle Over Terrorist's Locked iPhone

The Microsoft co-founder broke ranks with others in Silicon Valley, saying Apple should agree to the FBI's request to unlock an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino attack.

Last updated on February 23, 2016, at 9:42 a.m. ET

Posted on February 23, 2016, at 1:51 a.m. ET

Ted S. Warren / AP

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has sided with the government in an ongoing dispute with Apple over whether the technology company must help federal agents break into a locked iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

In an interview with the Financial Times published early Tuesday, Gates disagreed with Apple CEO Tim Cook's notion that assisting the FBI with unlocking an iPhone that belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook — who killed 14 people at a California government center with his wife — would create a way to access all others.

"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."

"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. Let's say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said 'don't make me cut this ribbon because you'll make me cut it many times'," Gates continued.

The former Microsoft chief added that there must be rules for when the government can 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," Gates added.

Later in the day, during an interview with Bloomberg Business Gates said he was "disappointed" by the Financial Times article.

"That doesn't state my view on this. I do believe that with the right safeguards, there are cases where the government, on our behalf, like stopping terrorism, which could get worse in the future, that that is valuable," he said. "I do believe there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn't have to be completely blind."

"The courts will decide this," he said.

Last week Apple was ordered by a judge to create software that would unlock an iPhone used by Farook, but Cook called it "an unprecedented step," saying the demand "threatens the security of our customers."

The stance taken by Gates is a break from other prominent figures in Silicon Valley, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who have all said they side with Apple.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.