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Apple Accused of 'Providing Aid to Kidnappers, Robbers' By NYPD Counterterrorism Chief

Rhetoric around encryption heats up

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New York Police Department counterterrorism chief John Miller blasted Apple for fighting the government on encryption, accusing the technology giant of “providing aid to kidnapers, robbers and murders.”

In an interview Sunday with AM radio host John Catsimatidis, the deputy commissioner slammed the company for its encryption policies, saying changes to the operating system have hampered law enforcement’s efforts, according to an account of the interview from the Daily News.

“You are actually providing aid to the kidnappers, robbers and murders who have actually been recorded on the telephones in Riker’s Island telling their compatriots on the outside, ‘You gotta get iOS 8. It’s a gift from God’ — and that’s a quote — ‘because the cops can’t crack it,'” Miller said.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. recounted the same anecdote in testimony last week before the House Judiciary Committee. In prepared remarks, he said his agency’s Cyber Lab is locked out of 175 devices, and that, in recent months, one out of every two Apple devices collected are inaccessible.

The same thing is happening in Harris County, Texas, where law enforcement is unable to access data on more than 100 encrypted Apple devices in investigations of various cases, including human trafficking, violent street crimes and sex assaults, Vance said in prepared remarks. Ditto for Chicago, Ill., and in Connecticut.

Although the Justice Department has argued, in filings with federal district court, that its request is limited to a single device — the iPhone 5c used by one of the shooters in San Bernardino — FBI Director James Comey acknowledged in testimony that the case holds the potential to a legal precedent. Some Washington, D.C., observers believe Comey as fighting this case, in part, to help local enforcement.

Apple is hardly indifferent to law enforcement requests — it responded to some 3,824 in the first half of last year alone, according to its report. A dedicated team also is available around the clock to handle such requests, including in the San Bernardino attack. But the government’s latest ask — that Apple write a new version of its operating system that would make it easier for law enforcement to unlock the phone by brute force — goes too far, the company argues.

“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a letter to consumers. “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.”

Apple and virtually every major technology company has argued that the government’s request is both unprecedented and dangerous, leaving hundreds of millions of consumers potentially exposed to cyber criminals, hackers and repressive governments.

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