Two of New York City’s top law enforcement officials accused Apple Inc of being irresponsible by refusing to help the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation hack into an iPhone recovered from one of the two shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, saying its stance could harm countless criminal prosecutions.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance waded into the raging debate over security and data privacy between federal officials and the world’s highest valued public company, calling the iPhone the first consumer product in history designed to be “warrant-proof.”
At a news conference with New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton on Friday, Vance said the San Bernardino attack, carried out by a young married couple apparently inspired by Islamic State, is “the most visible example of how Silicon Valley’s decisions are thwarting criminal investigations and impeding public safety.”
The case is just part of a larger problem that encryption creates for more common crimes like homicide, sexual abuse and identity theft, he said.
Vance’s office is currently holding 175 seized iPhones that remain inaccessible despite court orders allowing prosecutors to search the devices.
The two officials cited both Apple and the widely used Android operating system produced by Alphabet Inc’s Google unit as posing a concern.
A report Vance’s office first published in November cited a recorded phone conversation in which an inmate expressed hope his iPhone was running the latest operating system.
“The DA Cyrus Vance, who’s prosecuting me, is beefing with Apple because they put these phones that can’t be (un)encrypted,” the inmate said. “If our phones is running on the iOS8 software, they can’t open my phone.”
A federal judge in Los Angeles on Tuesday ordered Apple to help government investigators seeking to read data on an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Wednesday that the government’s request would force a “backdoor” that could imperil all iPhone owners, a position supported by Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
“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 cyber criminals,” Cook said.
Vance and Bratton said they were simply seeking to execute lawful court orders based on probable cause.
“This is the Wild West of technology,” said Vance on Thursday. “Apple and Google are their own sheriffs. There are no rules.”