New York DA Says He Can't Access 175 iPhones From Criminal Cases Due to Encryption

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Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said today his office has 175 iPhones it can't open because of encryption, and said he doesn't believe it should be up to Apple whether or not it cooperates with law enforcement.

"This has become, ladies and gentlemen, the wild west of technology," he said at a news conference today. "Apple and Google are the sheriffs and there are no rules."

Vance, who was joined by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, said the 175 phones his office is unable to unlock cover a wide range of cases, including homicide, attempted murder and sex abuse cases.

He said having access to the phones would allow detectives to see messages, videos and contact lists showing how alleged co-conspirators are connected -- and also serve the purpose of helping to exonerate the wrongfully accused.

"It is very difficult to explain to a victim of a crime ... that we cannot get the evidence that may identify the individual who may have committed the crime," Vance said.

Apple's decision to fight a court order to help federal authorities unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters has thrust the long-brewing encryption battle into the spotlight.

"When Apple made its decision in the late fall of 2014 to lock their devices through end-to-end encryption, I was aware immediately this was going to have an impact in the DA’s office," Vance said.

The news conferences comes as Vance published an op-ed in the New York Times calling iPhones "the first warrant-proof consumer products in American history."

"But as the encryption debate zeroes in on the cowardly terrorist acts committed in San Bernardino, we should also remember that Apple’s switch to default device encryption affects virtually all criminal investigations, the overwhelming majority of which are handled by state and local law enforcement," Vance wrote. "Our agencies do not have the same resources as the federal Justice Department, which is why a national, legislative solution is so urgently needed."

Apple CEO Tim Cook explained the company's stance in a letter Tuesday night, saying a master key to unlock all iPhones would compromise "the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk," he said. "That is why encryption has become so important to all of us."