Video by Justine Miller and Print by James Farrell
The FBI ended its widely publicized legal action against tech-giant Apple Monday. This came after the agency revealed it had accessed the previously locked iPhone of Syed Farook, the gunman behind last year’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, without Apple’s help.
The lawsuit may be over, but the questions that it raised about the right to privacy and national security still linger, especially in New York City.
During a February press conference, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said that the NYPD had at least 175 phones containing potentially important criminal evidence that could not be accessed. He argued that Apple had a responsibility to help law enforcement unlock the phones.
“It is very difficult to explain to a victim of a crime,” Vance said, “that we cannot get the evidence that may identify the individual who may have committed the crime.”
The debate about unlocking encrypted iPhones began in February after the FBI filed a court order against Apple. The FBI wanted to compel the company to help the agency break into Farook’s iPhone. Apple refused, saying such cooperation would set a dangerous precedent of allowing the government access to personal information.
“Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in an open letter on the company’s website. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”
The FBI has not revealed how they have accessed Farook’s iPhone. But New York law enforcement officials said Monday that Apple and other tech companies have a responsibility to aid in investigations beyond San Bernardino.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, for instance, said at the February press conference that a Rikers Island prisoner was recorded saying that iPhone encryption is “a gift from God” because it restricted access to evidence.
“I would advocate that Apple and Google,” said Bratton, “should not be in the business of giving gifts from God.”