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iPhone encryption has locked out Manhattan cops just 74 times

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
July 8, 2015
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You'll frequently hear law enforcement complain that it can't break the full-drive encryption in newer smartphone operating systems, but how often do the police run into that problem, really? Thanks to a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, you now have a better idea. The Manhattan District Attorney's office has revealed that, out of the 92 cases where an iPhone with iOS 8 has been involved so far, the cops have been locked out 74 times. District Attorney Cyrus Vance portrays this as proof that officers need backdoors or other forms of guaranteed access, noting that there's at least one case (in Illinois) where evidence from a victim's iPhone led to a conviction. Police shouldn't simply be told that there's "nothing [they] can do," he says.

Context is everything, however, and this isn't quite as dire a situation as Vance made it out to be. The Manhattan DA typically handles 100,000 cases a year -- 0.07 percent is a drop in the bucket. Moreover, there's no records showing whether or not the encryption actually stopped the investigation cold. It's possible that the security merely forced officers to rely on other forms of evidence. While there's still a concern that clever criminals will take advantage of encryption, there's also no data showing that there would be enough arrests to justify the reduced privacy.

[Image credit: Shutterstock]

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