The Manhattan District Attorney Calls for Access to Encrypted Data

According to the BBC, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has released a report claiming that law enforcement should have access to encrypted data on smartphones. His report comes as a direct response to Apple and Google, whose iOS and Android operating system automatically encrypt the data used by their operators.

The report claims that “the consequences of these companies’ actions on the public safety are severe.”

franceDebate regarding whether data encryption services should be accessible to the average consumer have been even further fueled by last week’s tragic multi-pronged terrorist attack in France. 129 Parisian citizens were killed and 352 were wounded by three teams of terrorists that staged coordinated attacks at six locations. The planning necessary to carry out these attacks has prompted authorities to claim that increasing their access to the private information of the public would help them to find attackers’ murderous plans before they are carried out.

The U.S. feels intrinsically involved in the issue, as is demonstrated by the statement given by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: “The United States and France are not only friends, we are family. And today, the entire world joins our family in the heartbreak yet again.”

“Don’t mistake what these attacks represent,” Kerry continued. “This is not a clash of civilizations. These terrorists have declared war against all civilization… This is an assault not just on France, but coming on the heels of brutal attacks in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere, it is an assault on our collective sense of reason and purpose, an attack on civility itself.”

The egregious attack has caused a ripple of international security concerns all around the world. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a plan for $3 billion in additional funding to be spent on the country’s military forces to fight terrorism, law enforcement has been ramped up considerably in large U.S. cities like New York and Washington D.C., and a variety of international sporting events and music concerts have been cancelled.

So back to Manhattan: recently in a case unrelated to the, attacks in France, Apple refused a court order to unlock data on a smartphone that is part of a criminal case.

encrypt iphoneThe District Attorney of Manhattan then filed his report, claiming that “smartphones are ubiquitous, and there is almost no kind of case in which prosecutors have not used evidence from smartphones… Evidence from smartphones has been used across the country to investigate and prosecute homicides, rapes, assaults, domestic violence, narcotics rings, kidnappings, larcenies, frauds and robberies. ”

Alone with these assertions came a series of case examples and several questions for Apple and Google regarding the technical details of their encryption schemes and their policies of not adhering to requests to decrypt data. Apparently the District Attorney had already asked these questions in other letters but received no response.

The report proposes that smartphones be made subject to search warrants, so law enforcement could force operating system designers to unlock encrypted data held on the device.

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