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Manhattan District Attorney Can't Access 175 Apple Devices Because They're Encrypted

Cy Vance argued the encrypted cell phones are affecting both law enforcement investigations and the victims of crimes.

Posted on February 18, 2016, at 3:18 p.m. ET

Andrew Burton / Getty Images

Cyrus Vance

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said Thursday that his office has 175 Apple devices it cannot access because of encryption – and that it's affecting both law enforcement and the victims of crimes.

"It is very difficult to explain to a victim of a crime that we cannot get the evidence that may identify the individual who may have committed the crime," he said.

This week a U.S. magistrate judge ordered Apple to assist federal investigators with unlocking an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terror attack shooters. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company will fight the judge's order, calling the request "an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers."

Joined on Thursday by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, Vance said Apple and Google are "acting like teenagers saying 'nobody can tell me what to do,'" and said ever-improving smart phone encryption is impacting law enforcement's ability to solve crimes.

Vance did not name specific cases, but Bratton held up the cell phone seized after the recent shooting of two police officers in the Bronx and said that detectives have not been able to unlock it. Vance added that cell phone data can help investigate murders, child pornography, and theft.

"This has become, ladies and gentlemen, the wild west of technology," Vance said. "And Apple and Google are their own sheriffs."

Vance said Apple slowly complied with court orders up until iOS8 was released in September 2014.

"When Apple made its decision in the late fall of 2014 to lock their devices through end-to-end encryption, I was aware immediately this was going to have an impact in the DA's office," Vance said.

Bratton said that criminals are aware of the protection, adding that a Rikers Island prisoner was caught on tape calling encrypted phones a "gift from God."

"I would advocate that Apple and Google should not be in the business of giving gifts from God," he said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.