News Orgs Sue FBI for Details on San Bernardino iPhone Hacking

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The Associated Press and two other news organizations sued the FBI on Friday for details about who the agency worked with and how much it spent to hack the San Bernardino killer's iPhone earlier this year.

The lawsuit, filed by the AP, Gannett (which owns USA Today), and Vice Media, "seeks records about the FBI's contract with an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock the phone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook," the AP said.

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia under the US Freedom of Information Act.

"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," the suit argues, according to the AP.

An FBI spokesman told PCMag he could not comment on the pending litigation.

The agency has rejected previous requests to share this information, saying it could affect "enforcement proceedings." The media organizations, however, claim in their suit that "there was no legal basis to withhold the information," and that "the public has a right to know whether the vendor has adequate security measures, is a proper recipient of government funds, and will act only in the public interest," according to the AP.

The Washington Post in April reported that the FBI hired "gray hat" hackers to unlock the phone. Prior to that, there was speculation that the FBI received assistance from Israeli security firm Cellebrite do the job, but neither party has confirmed that information. Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey has suggested that the FBI paid the mysterious hackers more than $1 million.

The issue dates back to late March when the US Department of Justice withdrew its legal action against Apple, claiming that law enforcement officials had found a way to bypass the encryption on the smartphone without Cupertino's assistance. Before that, the government said it needed Apple's help to unlock the shooter's phone, even claiming in a court filing that an Apple-created encryption key was the only way to access data stored on the phone.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, backed by many other tech industry leaders, rejected the government's call for help, saying that creating a backdoor in this case would lead to a slippery slope for future encryption cases.

The suit, meanwhile, comes as a University of Cambridge researcher claims that a hack of the iPhone 5c in question "does not require any expensive and sophisticated equipment."

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