Three news groups are suing the FBI for information on how they hacked the San Bernardino iPhone belonging to the terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook.
“The lawsuit seeks records about the FBI’s contract with an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife killed 14 people at a holiday gathering of county workers in December 2015,” according to Boston Herald.
One vital aspect of the lawsuit is the grounds upon which they are pursuing it.
“The Associated Press, Vice Media, and Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, said in a lawsuit that the FBI has no right to withhold the information on how it cracked the code of the San Bernardino iPhone,” Tech Times reports.
“The suit is filed under the Freedom of Information Act, and the group is asking the court to force the FBI to release all information on the hack. Earlier this year, the FBI and Apple faced off in court because of the company’s refusal to hack into the San Bernardino iPhone despite the request of the agency. However, the court battle was short lived because the FBI managed to purchase the hack from a third party.”
The big mystery at the center of all this is correlated to one question: who was the third party? Also, many involved in this fight split over the issue of whether encryption is good or not.
“At issue was the question of whether information on phones and computers should be fully encrypted, meaning the data on them is scrambled up so that only the user can unlock and read it,” CNET says. “Those in favor of encryption argue it’s vital for keeping user data safe from hackers and it allows for freedom of expression on the Internet. Law enforcement officials argue unbreakable encryption keeps them from accessing vital evidence in crimes.”
While encryption can protect the privacy of phone owners and users, many public officials find it to be a barrier to public safety. In regard to this lawsuit, however, the news groups are much more concerned about the public’s right to know how a government organization was able to breach this level of privacy protection and encryption–as well as who the mysterious third party is.
“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 lawsuit reads.
Many public officials are worried that if this information came out, it could harm the public more than help. That is, it could inspire malicious deeds from other terrorists who could use the information to break the encryption on other iPhones.
“The government has said revealing the records could affect ‘enforcement proceedings,’ but would not elaborate. FBI spokesman Chris Allen declined to comment yesterday,” said The Boston Herald.
Tech Times further explained this problem.
“There is also doubt as to whether the courts would compel the FBI to reveal how it hacked into the San Bernardino iPhone. Individuals — especially those with evil intentions — could use the procedure to pull off the same trick on other phones even before Apple gets the slightest chance of creating and releasing a fix.”
This issue raises serious governmental and ethical issues: should our government be allowed to break the encryption on iPhones, and would it really be best to make this information public? Or would it likely inspire those with “evil intentions”?
[Featured Image by Kiichiro Sato/AP Images]