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Prosecutor Makes The Case For Law Enforcement Access To Data

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The fight for privacy isn't just between consumers and tech companies or hackers. It often involves the government. If you recall, one of the most high-profile battles between law enforcement and privacy advocates came after the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. The Justice Department tried to make Apple unlock the iPhone of their suspect. In the end, that case was dropped, and the FBI had to spend over a million dollars to unlock that iPhone independently. Michael Ramos is district attorney of San Bernardino County in California, and he's president of the National Association of District Attorneys (ph). And he told us that even though that case is over, he's dealing with many more like it.

MICHAEL RAMOS: It's very important, and it's still a huge issue. In fact, we are going to be talking about that at a national level in a meeting with the new Attorney General Sessions. Criminals are using phones because they know law enforcement cannot get into the phone system.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you going to be asking Mr. Sessions for?

RAMOS: You know, I'm going to ask him if he could support legislation to come up with some kind of compromise where, in certain situations, certain circumstances, if you meet those criteria, that law enforcement should be able to get into your phones to, number one, solve a crime, such as murder or drug trafficking or, number two, prevent a crime from happening in the future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me understand, sir. You want this to happen without having to go in front of a judge?

RAMOS: Oh, no. I think we have a system in place. It should go in front of a judge, just like any other search warrant. You should have to write it. You should have all the elements, the probable cause to go into that phone. And with those safeguards, then I think you protect all of our rights as citizens.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, one of the big arguments that took place during this whole issue with the phone of Syed Farook and Apple...

RAMOS: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Is that, you know, if you allow access to iPhones through a backdoor, that could jeopardize the security of all iPhones, that could be opening a backdoor that hackers could use to steal people's information. Why do you think that that is a risk worth taking?

RAMOS: I think it's not the risk that everybody thinks. There can be a system that could be put in place, a key or a key-and-a-half system where in that situation the information could be unlocked for that device only and then after the combination is used, destroyed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Michael Ramos, he's the San Bernardino County district attorney.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

RAMOS: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And next time on The Call-In, President Trump has promised to roll back environmental regulations, and he's asked Congress to slash the budget of the EPA. What are your questions about the administration's climate change policy and its possible effects? Call in at 202-216-9217. Leave us a voicemail with your full name, where you're from and your question, and we may use it on the air. That number again - 202-216-9217.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.