District Attorney Vance Testifies Before U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding Encryption Technology and Public Safety

July 8, 2015

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and voiced his concern over new encryption technology introduced by Apple and Google that prevents prosecutors from obtaining lawful access to evidence crucial to investigating and solving crime.

“It is undisputed that phones are used by criminals committing murders, rapes, and robberies in most of the thousands of felonies we prosecute each year, and that key evidence is on those phones,” stated District Attorney Vance at today’s hearing. “Full-disc encryption upsets the balance between privacy and public safety by allowing criminal activity to thrive in a medium now unavailable to law enforcement. Before September 2014, our investigators could access the relevant contents of a locked iPhone with a search warrant. Today, unless someone knows the passcode of that phone, we cannot. When you consider the use of smartphones by criminals, and also by their victims, you begin to understand the profound impact this has on the pursuit of justice for everyday Americans.

“Our access to electronic data is grounded in and is limited by the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution, authorizing only ‘reasonable’ searches, based on probable cause, supported by a particularized search warrant, and only after approval by a neutral judge. As it stands today, Apple and Google have decided who can access key evidence in criminal investigations. I do not, and I cannot believe it is right that they should decide the path toward justice for victims around the country, or for our nation as a whole.” The testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee can be read in full here.

During today’s hearing, District Attorney Vance highlighted two letters the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office sent to Apple and Google following meetings at the companies’ U.S. headquarters in March. The letters included the following questions:

  • Is it accurate that, after the iOS8 upgrade, Apple no longer maintains the ability to unlock iPhones running on iOS8 anywhere in the world market?
  • What percentage of current Apple mobile device users have the iCloud backup option turned on?
  • Is it accurate that, after the iOS8 upgrade, Apple no longer maintains the ability to unlock iPhones running on iOS8 anywhere in the world market? Even if Apple does not maintain the ability to unlock devices running on iOS8, does Apple provide any foreign agency or entity the right or ability to unlock iOS8 devices?
  • If Apple kept a “key” so that it was able to unlock iPhones, would the iPhones be more vulnerable to hackers than if Apple had no such “key”?
  • Is there any “key” or similar device that Apple might keep without sacrificing the security of iPhones from hackers?

The companies have not responded to date.

District Attorney Vance also submitted several letters on behalf of crime victims’ advocates concerned by Apple and Google “unnecessarily hinder[ing] the critical investigative operations of state and local law enforcement, while unintentionally protecting criminals.” Those leading groups include Safe Horizon, Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims, Crime Victims Treatment Center, Sanctuary for Families, Day One New York, the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, and others.

These groups join a growing coalition of law enforcement partners, including the prosecuting attorneys in Baton Rouge, Boston, Charlotte, NC; Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Philadelphia, Portland, OR; Phoenix, and Miami; as well as the National District Attorneys Associaton, the Associaton of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the New York State Police, among others.