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Manhattan DA calls on US Congress to support bill requiring mandatory decryption

The District Attorney of New York County is reportedly lobbying members of U.S. Congress in the hope they'll back legislation requiring companies like Apple to decrypt data on-demand following court orders.

"What we're doing is talking to political leaders, to try and convince them that they should address this [encryption issue] with federal legislation. I think that has to be the solution," Cyrus Vance told a crowd at the non-governmental Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on Wednesday night, according to BuzzFeed News.

Vance claimed that the strong encryption used in platforms like Apple's iOS 9 and Facebook's WhatsApp creates "warrant-proof devices," in which criminals can act without being worried about government surveillance.

"We now live in a world where we are not getting all the facts," Vance continued. "Many of the facts are on smartphones, because criminals, just like you and me, have moved off paper and onto digital devices."

The district attorney said that his office has 230 Apple devices it can't break into, tied to crimes such as murder and child abuse, and argued that law enforcement should be able to search encrypted devices in the same way police can gain rights to go through cars, homes, and safety deposit boxes.

His stance met with opposition at the CFR event however, including from Adam Segal, director of the organization's digital efforts, who pointed out that a U.S. ban on strong encryption wouldn't stop the technology from being developed elsewhere.

Former Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff argued that the current encryption debate is just the most recent "species of a problem" involving law enforcement's need to gather evidence.

"Maybe it should be impossible to delete your email," Chertoff commented. "Maybe there should be a rule that you can never shred a piece of paper."

Segal worried that a future terrorist attack could potentially lead to dangerously rushed laws on the matter, which Vance then suggested was a reason for tech companies and legislators to work on laws now instead.

A draft decryption bill proposed by U.S. Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016, has been strongly opposed by both tech corporations and civil liberties organizations worried that the bill would effectively force the creation of backdoors and expose the public to hackers, criminals, and/or spy agencies, whether foreign or domestic. Some companies — particularly Apple — have taken to marketing privacy and security as core features.