Manhattan prosecutors have turned to private hackers to crack criminals’ encrypted cellphones — and even used the tactic to nab a serial child molester, DA Cy Vance Jr. said Thursday.
“It’s just impossible to overstate the value of this kind of direct evidence,” Vance said, addressing a crowd at the cybersecurity symposium hosted by his office at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The hacking is being done when Apple and Google’s encryption has prevented the execution of search warrants.
“It is actually the data, the pictures, the conversations that are on the the devices that make the difference between a case that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and a case that can only lead to disappointment and often heartbreak for a victim of a crime,” the DA added.
Vance has pushed for years for federal legislation to force the tech giants to make exceptions in smartphone encryption coding, when judicial warrants are in play.
Instead, Vance said the conversation has shifted to whether or not law enforcement “should break into their products.”
“Rather than regulate consumer products, we really are engaging in a very expensive and, I think, destructive cat-and-mouse game,” the DA added.
In the child sex-abuse case, the DA’s office hired a hacker to get into the phone of an accused predator with an iPhone 4S running an iOS8 operating system.
The alleged pedophile had videos of sexual assaults he committed, “which fully corroborated the testimony of the young girl,” the DA said.
Three homicides cases have benefited from a third-party hacker, Vance revealed.
The office allegedly has spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars on outside hacking.
Vance noted that the FBI spent a reported $1 million to break into the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist’s encrypted phone.
“A million dollars may be the entire law enforcement budget for a small county anywhere in the United States,” Vance said.
Apple reps have argued it is not possible to allow law enforcement the access they want while giving their customers adequate security.