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Bratton, DA Vance: Apple Must Share iPhone Information In Interest Of Public Safety

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said Thursday that Apple is standing in the way of public safety by not allowing access by law enforcement.

A federal ruling on Tuesday ordered Apple to disable the security feature on the phone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The feature automatically erases all data if an incorrect passcode is entered 10 times.

The ruling only allows Apple to write special code to disable the security feature in Farook's iPhone.

Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook said Wednesday that he will fight the court order all the way to the Supreme Court, citing concerns over enabling the U.S. government to create a "back door" for use in other cases.

Cook said this "master key" could fall into the wrong hands or that the government could extend its reach of privacy and demand Apple track locations, or access a cell phone's camera without the owner knowing.

"There have been people that suggest that we should have a back door. But the reality is if you put a back door in, that back door's for everybody, for good guys and bad guys," Cook said during a recent "60 Minutes" interview.

But Bratton and Vance said in a joint statement that such a position and policy puts the public at risk.

"San Bernardino is now the most prominent, national example of how Silicon Valley's decisions are thwarting serious criminal investigations and impeding public safety," they said in the statement. "When Apple made the overnight switch to default device encryption in September 2014, the company clearly gave no notice or thought to the impact that decision would have on crime victims."

Bratton and Vance noted that people now live on their smartphones, and "criminals are no different." Messages between sex traffickers and victims, contact lists for criminal networks, and videos of shootings and homicides can all be found out there in smartphones, the statement said.

"Decisions about who can access key evidence in criminal investigations should be made by courts and legislatures, not by Apple and Google," Bratton and Vance said. "As the Report on Smartphone Encryption and Public Safety issued by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office in November makes clear, in the absence of legislation, the line between privacy and public safety has been drawn by two of the world's most powerful companies whose decisions are guided by powerful economic interests. They have to answer to their shareholders, but we have to answer to constituents and crime victims."

The statement noted that evidence on iPhones has actually been used to solve crimes – and to hinder investigations.

"Earlier this month in the Bronx, an iPhone was unable to be unlocked as the NYPD investigated the shooting of two police officers," the statement said. "And there continues to be a steady drumbeat of terrorism investigations in New York City where law enforcement is unable to intercept communication either in motion or at rest on a device, with a court order."

The law enforcement officials blamed Apple and Google directly for standing in the way of police departments and prosecutors trying to solve crimes.

"Apple and Google have created the first warrant-proof consumer products in American history, and the result is that crimes are going unsolved and victims are being left beyond the protection of the law," the statement said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bratton also released a statement commending U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym for the order mandating that Apple disable the security feature on Farook's phone.

"As the threats from ISIL become more divergent and complex, we cannot give those seeking to harm us additional tools to keep their activity secret," Bratton said in a statement. "I reiterate my call on Congress to act immediately in passing legislation to provide law enforcement the tools we need to keep America safe.‎"

Other city and state officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have also expressed support of the mandate.

In a Daily News editorial issued before the joint statement, Vance questioned whether Cook was serious about fighting the order, or if the outcry was more of a public relations stunt.

"The lack of specifics in Cook's statement makes one question the claim that a 'backdoor' is going to be an open door for cyber criminals," Vance wrote.

The mass shooting in San Bernardino last year left 14 people dead and 21 others injured.

Advocacy group Chicago Activism has come out in support of Apple, calling for nationwide protests in support of the company to be held outside of local Apple stores.

According to the group's website, the rallies will be held next week, with local protests scheduled at the Apple store in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and at the Fifth Avenue Apple store location in Midtown.

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