- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2016

Security features introduced by Apple in October 2014 have caused investigators in New York City to amass a collection of at least 423 iPhone and iPads that are incapable of being unlocked despite being lawfully seized by authorities, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said this week.

The statistic appears in a 34-page released Thursday by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office that serves as both an update to its struggle with digital encryption and a call for Congress to legislate a solution.

Following the release nearly two years ago of its iOS 8 operating system, Apple has allowed mobile device users to encrypt their iPhones and iPods in a manner that makes it effectively impossible for anyone to decipher a secure device’s contents, law enforcement and Apple included.

The district attorney for Manhattan, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., was among the most vocal public opponents of Apple when it rolled out iOS 8 in October 2014. He has continued to call out the company during the last couple of years over its marketing of what he describes as “warrant-proof” devices that can’t be accessed irrespective of any court order authorizing a search and seizure.

In this week’s update, Mr. Vance’s office said “the threat to public safety is increasing rapidly” as Apple and others continue to market mobile devices and operating systems designed with security features that pose problems for law enforcement. Notwithstanding “vigorous efforts by law enforcement officials to address those risks and dangers, there has been precious little progress,” the report said.

“In the more than two years since Apple and Google announced that their operating systems would be inaccessible to the companies themselves, law enforcement’s inability to access critical evidence has hindered criminal investigations and prosecutions throughout the world,” the report said.

“In the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office alone, 423 Apple iPhones and iPads lawfully seized since October 2014 remain inaccessible due to default device encryption,” the report said. “These devices relate to cases involving various types of crimes investigated throughout the office, ranging from cybercrime, to narcotics, to violent offenses.”

Of those 423 phones, the report said that 10 percent related to homicide of attempt murder cases, while 9 percent pertained to sex crimes. Devices seized with respect to cases involving larceny, forgery, cyber crime or identity theft made up around 39 percent of the cache, the report said.

“Default device encryption poses a severe threat to our safety,” the report concluded. “To respond to the threat by ignoring it, or hurling bromides (‘Privacy,’ ‘Security’) as if they resolved matters, would be ill-advised. The genius of our legal system has been its ability to adapt to change, including technological change. With default device encryption, the legal system is faced with a technological change, just as it was with the advents of automobiles and telephones. As it did with respect to those technologies, the legal system must respond.”

Mr. Vance’s office hopes to accomplish as much with federal legislation that would require companies “to retain the ability to extract the information on the smartphones, if and when the manufacturer or designer receives a search warrant for that information.”

“The proposed legislation would restore the status quo before Apple’s iOS 8, and would be no different conceptually than legislation that requires products to be safe, buildings to be constructed with exits and egresses that satisfy specific requirements, and roads to have maximum speed limits,” the report said.

When reached for a response, Apple referred The Wall Street Journal to a February 2016 letter, written by its chief executive officer, Tim Cook, in which he defended the company’s security features in the midst of a federal court battle brought by the government’s inability to unlock an iPhone used by one of the terrorists in last year’s mass shooting in San Bernardino.

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Mr. Cook wrote then.

Mr. Vance’s office isn’t convinced. “Device encryption does not defend against these categories of cyberattacks and hacks, nor does it protect users against phishing scams,” this week’s report said.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said previously that it had amassed 74 encrypted smartphones that couldn’t be cracked as of July 2015, and that that figure had climbed to 175 by February 2016.

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