The nation’s biggest tech companies think they're above the law and risk government intervention if they don’t change their attitude, according to Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates.
"Tech companies have to be careful that they're not trying to think their view is more important than the government's view, or than the government being able to function in some key areas," the billionaire tech mogul said in an interview with Axios. (See also: Big Tech Spent Record Amounts on Lobbying Under Trump)When the interviewer asked Gates for examples of tech companies resisting government insight, Microsoft’s co-founder brought up "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."
Gates went on to criticize Apple Inc. (AAPL) for refusing to help the FBI break into an iPhone used by a terrorist in San Bernardino, California in December 2015. Fourteen people were killed and 22 others seriously injured during the attack. "There's no question of ability" for Apple to unlock an iPhone, he added. "It's the question of willingness." (See also: Bill Gates, Majority of Americans: Unlock iPhone.)
Gates insisted tech companies need to be more cooperative with the government, regardless of their personal political beliefs. “Although we disagree with this administration more than the others we’ve met with, we believe it’s still important to work together whenever possible,” he said. “We keep talking to them because if the U.S. cuts back on its investments abroad, people in other countries will die, and Americans will be worse off.”
During the interview, Microsoft’s co-founder was also asked what big trends scare him the most. He responded that small, independent, unregulated groups getting their hands on powerful technology is his biggest fear.
"There's always the question how much technology is empowering a small group of people to cause damage," he said, adding that some might have access to nuclear weapons, bioterror weapons, or cyberweapons. "A small group can have an impact — in the case of nuclear, on millions; and in the case of bio, on billions. That is scary to me.” (See also: Facebook and Google’s Days Are Numbered: Soros.)
Last year, Facebook (FB) fought federal prosecutors barring it from informing users about warrants for their information. "Government access laws are due for a fundamental realignment and update in light of the proliferation of technology, the very real security threats to people, and the expectations of privacy that Internet users have in their communications," wrote Google's (GOOG) Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado in a blog post last year.