The Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to get tough on Apple last year after the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. The Feds wanted to hack into one of the terrorist’s smartphones using a technique that, Apple said, could render all iPhones – and by extension all iPhone users – vulnerable to hacking.
The FBI pushed. Apple stood firm. Now the Associated Press has joined forces with two other news agencies – Gannett Co, which owns USA Today, and Vice Media LLC – to sue the FBI to get records pertaining to the Feds contract with an as yet named vendor who gave investigators a tool to unlock the phone.
The FBI alleged the deal with the undisclosed hacker allowed them to drop threats against Apple rather than the groundswell of public support for the tech company. But the Associated Press is having none of that. In the lawsuit, the complainant says:
“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…”
In other words, who is the government paying to break into privately owned phones, how much and how often. While these questions are not likely to be answered by this suit, the fact that the suit is happening goes a long way toward getting some of these answers, because someone had to take the lead … and few groups have the same sway as the combined power of the AP, Gannett, and VICE.
The suit cites the Freedom of Information Act, claiming the information should be accessible and that the U.S. public deserves to know what the FBI is doing with tax dollars, especially if it poses a security risk to American citizens. All previous requests for the information have been ignored or rebuffed. The FBI says releasing the information could hinder “enforcement proceedings.”
While legal decisions will likely play a decisive role in the proceedings, public pressure could very well assist in the press company’s efforts to receive the information. How much and how often, as well as what the narrative will be will be up to the editors at these various media agencies.
David Firester specializes in intelligence analysis and is founder of TRAC Intelligence.