The highest-profile battle over privacy and technology has not ended. In fact, it may have only just begun with a lawsuit filed by three news organizations against the FBI.
You may recall that the agency wanted Apple to decrypt an iPhone 5c in the possession of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people and wounded 24 others. Farook and co-perpetrator, wife Tashfeen Malik, were killed shortly after their attack. The FBI claimed it wanted to obtain sensitive documents from the phone that might have helped Farook plan the shooting — reports later said that the department found little of use.
Apple refused to assist in decrypting the phone, saying that its encryption technology was made so that the company itself could not tamper with it. Eventually, the FBI went to a third-party vendor and bought a zero-day hack to access data inside the iPhone 5c.
Today, the Associated Press, Gannett (owner of USA TODAY) and Vice have sued the FBI for information about the purchase of that hacking tool and what information the agency was able to retrieve because of that tool.
“The FBI’s purchase of this tool allowed government access to Mr. Farook’s phone,” the complaint reads, “providing new information about one of the deadliest attacks on American soil in recent years, but also apparently failing to reveal any evidence of links between Mr. Farook and foreign terrorists or terrorist organizations.”
Another important point that needs public spotlight, say the news organizations, is the vulnerability or vulnerabilities that allowed the security lapse to happen in Apple’s encryption. They’re seeking intel on the vendor, its missions and facilities and whether or not the purchase of the tool from said vendor is a proper appropriation of taxpayer dollars.
The AP, USA TODAY and Vice all made requests to the FBI for this information under the Freedom of Information Act. The agency denied the requests under an exemption claiming that the documents were being used as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, but did not state reasoning as to this particular case — the organizations allege that such an action violates the law.