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Three news organizations filed a lawsuit Friday, Sept. 16 seeking to find out how the FBI was able to break into the iPhone of a gunman in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The Justice Department spent more than a month unsuccessfully trying to force Apple to help agents bypass security on Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. The dispute ended when the FBI said an outside party had cracked the phone without Apple’s help.
Gannett, the AP and Vice all sought records from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act that would identify the source of the hack and how much the government paid.
“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.
The FBI denied each of those requests, saying, without explanation, that revealing the records would imperil its enforcement efforts.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday the Obama administration has “tried to be as transparent as possible,” but “given the sensitive nature of the information, we’ve been quite limited in what we can discuss openly.”
The FBI has not revealed who provided the exploit or how much it paid. FBI Director James Comey intimated in April that the price had been more than $1 million. He later said the security exploit was well worth the high price.
Comey has said the exploit “works on a narrow slice of phones,” and probably would not be useful for unlocking anything other than an iPhone 5C running the operating system iOS 9, the type of phone Farook used. A spokesman for the FBI, Chris Allen, said he could not comment on pending litigation.
“I am confident that the Obama administration will comply with the law,” Earnest said.