Microsoft-founder Bill Gates has admitted that although the US government will need covert access to user emails occasionally, these should only be in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances.
He openly supported his company’s ongoing legal case against the US government for the right to inform users of its services such as Outlook or Live.com when a federal agency is snooping on their emails.
Gates admitted: "There probably are some cases where [the government] should be able to go in covertly and get information about a company's email."
"But the position Microsoft is taking in this suit is that it should be extraordinary and it shouldn't be a matter of course that there is a gag order automatically put in," he said.
The lawsuit, which was filed last week in federal court in Microsoft's home town of Seattle, argues that the government is violating the US Constitution by preventing Microsoft from notifying thousands of customers about government requests for their emails and other documents, sometimes indefinitely.
Gates said more collaboration between law enforcement and privacy advocates would help determine which ‘legislative framework ... strikes the perfect balance’ on government access to private data.
"I don't think there are any absolutists who think the government should be able to get everything or the government should be able to get nothing," he said.
Gates earlier waded into the debate around whether Apple should unlock one of its iPhones to aid the investigation into the San Bernadino shootings at the end of last year. The FBI launched a court case against Apple to force them to cooperate although this was later dropped when the Bureau managed to unlock the device without its makers help.
While the case was still ongoing, Gates said he believed technology companies should be forced to co-operate with law enforcement in terrorism investigations.