AP, other media sue FBI for details on iPhone hacking tool
The Associated Press and two other news organizations sued the FBI on Friday to learn who the government paid and how much it spent to hack into an iPhone in its investigation into last year’s San Bernardino, California, massacre.
The lawsuit seeks records about the FBI’s contract with an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife killed 14 people at a holiday gathering of county workers in December 2015.
Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, and Vice Media LLC joined the complaint with the AP, seeking to learn more about the mysterious transaction that cut short a legal dispute in which the government sought to force Apple Inc. to unlock the phone.
“Understanding the amount that the FBI deemed appropriate to spend on the tool, as well as the identity and reputation of the vendor it did business with, is essential for the public to provide effective oversight of government functions and help guard against potential improprieties,” said the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
In rejecting earlier requests to divulge the information, the government had said revealing the records could affect “enforcement proceedings,” but did not elaborate. FBI spokesman Chris Allen declined to comment Friday.
The case stems from the FBI’s announcement in March that it had purchased a tool to unlock the iPhone, aborting the court fight with Apple that had in turn triggered a debate about the proper balance between electronic privacy and national security.
The FBI for weeks had maintained that only Apple could help it access the work-issued phone, which was found in a car after the shooting and was protected by a passcode that included security protocols. At the Justice Department’s request, a magistrate judge in February directed Apple to create software that would bypass security features on the phone so that the FBI could get into the device and scour it for potential evidence. Apple contested the order, saying the FBI’s demand set a dangerous precedent and could undercut security protections for its customers.