Three media outlets have jointly filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the FBI to release information about the third-party hacker it used to break into the San Bernardino attacker’s iPhone 5c. The request was filed by the Associated Press, Vice Media, and USA Today at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia through their attorneys.
The FBI and Apple were embroiled in a lengthy and controversial legal standoff when Apple refused to comply with the federal agency’s request to unlock the iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of two attackers who killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in San Bernardino last December. Though the FBI fought in court to compel Apple to break into the phone, the issue became moot as the agency opted to buy a hack from a third-party vendor instead when it brought an encryption flaw to government’s attention. Director James Comey has suggested that the agency paid a large sum, exceeding $1 million, for the hack.
The FBI has refused previous requests for further information on the hack and vendor, according to Apple Insider, and Apple has decided not to press for details about the iPhone vulnerability.
The complaint argues that the public has a right to know the nature of the hack as well as the third-party who possesses it, since it confirms that iPhones have a “serious undisclosed vulnerability.” Given that the iPhone is one of the most popular consumer products in the world, the news organizations argue that the public has an interest in knowing more about the hacker organization hired by the FBI and whether it is appropriate for the government to tacitly sanction its activities by paying it a large undisclosed sum of public funds.
The lawsuit notes that “the public interest in receiving this information is significant.”