Manhattan DA: Expect more encryption court orders

Manhattan DA: Expect more encryption court orders
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The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering seeking court orders to unlock encrypted smartphones in several cases, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The comments suggest that the recent court order requesting Apple’s assistance in accessing an iPhone used by one of perpetrators of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting is just the first of many to come.

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Apple has rejected the order, setting up a standoff between one of the world’s most valuable companies and the federal government.

In a press conference, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the decision was “the most visible example of how Silicon Valley’s decisions are thwarting criminal investigations and impeding public safety.”

Law enforcement officials have warned they are increasingly unable to access information during investigations because of encrypted devices. Investigators have been pressing tech firms to help them bypass security features.

But the tech community has resisted, arguing that such assistance would amount to creating a “back door” into all devices that could be exploited by hackers and foreign spies.

Apple’s defiance was the most high-profile example of a company rebuffing such requests for help. But it seems likely it will be the opening salvo in a protracted battle between law enforcement and tech companies.

According to Reuters, Vance's office currently has 175 seized iPhones that it cannot access despite court orders authorizing searches of the devices.

"This is the Wild West of technology," Vance said at the conference. "Apple and Google are their own sheriffs. There are no rules."

In addition to Vance’s remarks, a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office in Boston acknowledged that the office would consider similar court orders.

“We can’t rule that out,” he told The Journal. It may be a question of finding the right case.”

Some expect the fight to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this would be a showdown which could reach the highest levels of our courts,” Matthew Adams, a partner at Fox Rothschild who works on cases involving digital forensics, told The Hill this week.