Joint Statement by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton on Smartphone Encryption

February 18, 2016

“Law enforcement agencies around the country are following the news coming out of California closely. San Bernardino is now the most prominent, national example of how Silicon Valley’s decisions are thwarting serious criminal investigations and impeding public safety. When Apple made the overnight switch to default device encryption in September 2014, the company clearly gave no notice or thought to the impact that decision would have on crime victims. People today live their lives on smartphones, and criminals are no different: Evidence that used to be stored in file cabinets, closets, and safes is now found on smartphones, including – but by no means limited to – iMessages between sex traffickers and the victims they control, contact lists connecting criminal networks, and videos of shootings and homicides. 

“Decisions about who can access key evidence in criminal investigations should be made by courts and legislatures, not by Apple and Google. As the Report on Smartphone Encryption and Public Safety issued by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in November makes clear, in the absence of legislation, the line between privacy and public safety has been drawn by two of the world’s most powerful companies whose decisions are guided by powerful economic interests. They have to answer to their shareholders, but we have to answer to constituents and crime victims.

“Encryption has real impact on New Yorkers, too. Earlier this month in the Bronx, an iPhone was unable to be unlocked as the NYPD investigated the shooting of two police officers. And there continues to be a steady drumbeat of terrorism investigations in New York City where law enforcement is unable to intercept communication either in motion or at rest on a device, with a court order.  

“Local law enforcement agencies around the country are grappling with the same problem of explaining to crime victims and surviving family members that we have hit an investigative roadblock or dead end, because Apple and Google no longer comply with warrants issued by judges. Apple and Google have created the first warrant-proof consumer products in American history, and the result is that crimes are going unsolved and victims are being left beyond the protection of the law.”