The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App

Encrypted iPhone battle extends beyond San Bernardino attack

NEW YORK --The Department of Justice on Friday asked a federal judge to force Apple to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists. But Apple says if it did that all its customers would lose their right to privacy.

The battle over access to the San Bernardino shooter's cell phone is far from isolated.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office says it's investigating cases ranging from homicide to child sexual abuse involving 175 Apple products that have the same encryption as Syed Farook's phone.

"It is very difficult to explain to a victim of a crime whether it's assault, a sexual charge or a financial charge that we cannot get the evidence that may identify the individual who committed the crime because a cell phone company and designer has decided they know better," said Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the Manhattan DA.

But Apple CEO Tim Cook says he's fighting the order to devise a way past the iPhone's encryption so he can keep his consumers safe.

"...The reality is if you put a back door in, that back door's for everybody," he said.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller says that Apple could develop a code to break into the phone and then destroy it. But Cook maintains that wouldn't resolve the issue.

"Tim Cook says 'I'm doing this for the safety of my customers,' meaning, so that we have an impregnable phone. I have to ask, how many people who died on the floor in San Bernardino or in Paris had iPhones in their pockets as they were being killed by terrorists? They are Tim Cook's customers, too."

Still, a senior Apple executive said that even if the company did what's being asked, the issue would keep coming up.

"If we break this phone at 8 am, destroy the code, then at 10 am we get another subpoena," the executive said.

One may wonder whether there isn't somebody who currently works for the CIA or the NSA who could do what the government wants Apple to do.

"I think the answer is that there's been so much advance in the last year, 18 months, in the ability to protect information in these kind of devices that the government has simply been falling behind in its capabilities," said CBS News Senior Security Contributor Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA.

The next chapter in this legal battle will unfold on March 22, when a judge will hear arguments from both sides in a federal court in California.