New York District Attorney calls for federal law to unlock iPhones in criminal investigations

NEW  YORK -- It's been a source of conflict between law enforcement across the country and tech giant Apple.

Now Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is leading the charge. Vance is renewing calls for federal legislation to force Apple to unlock their phones in criminal investigations.

Apple has so far remained steadfast in saying no to law enforcement entities.

These days, everyone has a smartphone -- even criminals.

Inside the Manhattan District Attorney's new Cyber Lab, which just opened Thursday, there are 409 locked iPhones. All seized from criminal investigations. The office believes accessing the stored data in these phones will further the investigations.

According to Vance's office, 10 percent of the locked phones are involved in attempted murder or homicide cases. Nine percent of the phones in sex crimes cases.

The impressive 2200 sq. foot facility will comb through digital evidence and try to crack passwords to get into those phones.

DA Vance says of the new Lab:

"A state-of-the-art cyber lab is an investment in 21st-century crimefighting and a demonstration of my Office's capacity to handle complex local, national, and international cybercrime investigations. Nearly every crime against Manhattan residents and institutions involving digital evidence will engage the resources and expertise of this lab. With a dedicated space for our prosecutors, investigators, and analysts to work together on fast-moving investigations, New York City is better equipped than ever to combat the rising tide of cybercrime and identity theft."

Apple first went up against law enforcement when they butted heads in February after the FBI fought to have Apple unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter. Apple went against the court order. The FBI eventually unlocked the device without Apple's help.

PIX11 spoke with people who have mixed feelings. Many say they want to be protected and help solve crimes but if it comes at the expense of their privacy, that becomes a more difficult question. Some are worried it opens the door to hackers.

"There's always a possibility to be hacked. I don't know if it makes it bigger the possibility because hackers know their way into the phones but if they want to get into your phone, they'll find a way," said iPhone user Antonella Mangold.

"I know it's like the FBI reading it but it still could be any person so I personally prefer my privacy over safety," said Nina Bechtold.

DA Vance is calling for federal legislation to force Apple to write a "warrant-friendly operating system."

A woman visiting New York City from Silicone Valley weighed in, saying "It's a conundrum there's both sides and I can see both sides. I'm from San Francisco we get it we understand the rights to privacy but we also understand there are times the government probably needs to get into phones for safety and security."

DA Vance's call for federal legislation may get a boost when President-elect Trump takes office. Trump called for a boycott of Apple when the company refused to help the FBI in the San Bernardino shooter case.