Microsoft CEO says backdoors are unthinkable — but doesn’t stand behind Apple

“I do think backdoors are a terrible idea, that is not the way to go about this.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says the company cannot defend Apple in the escalating battle between the company and the U.S. government over encryption exceptions. But he also made it clear that backdoors are not the solution to this issue.

“I do think backdoors are a terrible idea, that is not the way to go about this,” Nadella said at a meeting with reporters today. “We need some legal and technical solution in our democracy to have both of those be priorities.”

He’s a proponent of a key escrow system — In the meeting today, Nadella spoke briefly about the potential of using a key escrow system in the future. This kind of system would lock away backdoor keys for use by those in power under specific circumstances, like storing a key in a lockbox outside your house. It’s a protected backdoor, essentially.

But a key escrow system would be a proactive measure, which doesn’t help much in the current situation. And there’s a lot of concern over keeping that escrow secure.

Nadella wants to stay diplomatic — Nadella’s remarks never explicitly lean one way or the other beyond his admonishment of backdoors. “We can’t take hard positions on all sides,” he said. “My hope is that in our democracy these are the things that arrive at legislative solutions.” An answer just vague enough to keep everyone happy.

This is a marked difference from a similar case in 2016 where Microsoft stood behind Apple without question.

Everyone seems to agree: no backdoors, please — When AG William Barr made similar requests to Facebook, the company outright refused. The government isn’t giving up easily on this fight, though, and it’s sure to continue for some time.