Media Organizations Sue FBI for Information on iPhone Hacking Tool

The Associated Press, Vice Media LLC, and Gannett Co., the parent company of USA Today, sued the FBI on Friday to seek records of the FBI’s contract and transaction with a vendor who unlocked an iPhone in last year’s investigation of the San Bernardino shooting.

In their complaint, the plaintiff media organizations argue that the amount of public funds the FBI considered appropriate to allocate for the tool, and the identity and reputation of the vendor, are necessary for proper public oversight of the government. Furthermore, the plaintiffs assert that there is no legal basis for the FBI to withhold the information.

The FBI sought to access an iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook after he and his wife killed 14 people in December 2015. The FBI originally sought to compel Apple Inc. to unlock Farook’s phone. Apple refused to comply, sparking a public debate over whether private companies should be compelled to circumvent their own security protections in furtherance of an FBI investigation.

The Apple dispute ended in March when the FBI found the unknown vendor and unlocked the phone. While this allowed the government to obtain new information on the San Bernardino shooting, the FBI allegedly found no evidence that Mr. Farook was connected to terrorist organizations. The FBI refused to disclose the vendor’s identity, nor the agency’s relationship with the vendor.

The law suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the Freedom of Information Act.

Associated Press, News Groups Sue FBI for Details on iPhone Hacking Tool in San Bernardino Attack Investigation, L.A. TIMES (Sep. 19, 2016),

Complaint, The Associate Press v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 16-Cv-1850 (D.D.C. Sept. 16, 2016).