Media Groups File Lawsuit Against FBI To Learn How To Hack iPhones

The Associated Press, Gannett, and Vice Media LLC filed a joint lawsuit Friday seeking information about how the FBI unlocked the iPhone of mass-shooter Syed Rizwan Farook earlier this year, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in a terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, on 2 December 2015, the Independent reports.

The Lost Angeles Times and other sources noted that Malik had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State international terrorist organization and that official Islamic State propaganda publications praised the couple for the attack.

During the follow up investigation of the the crime, the FBI paid “an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock [Farook’s] phone,” the Associated Press reports.

The FBI announced it had accessed the iPhone’s data with the help of the undisclosed party after Apple refused requests to assist the FBI with hacking into the iPhone, CNBC reported in March.

Apple’s iPhone platform comes with a feature that causes the devices to automatically disable after 10 unsuccessful password attempts. The data stored on the iPhone becomes inaccessible at that point, according to CNBC.

“The case marked one of the highest-profile clashes in the debate over encryption and data privacy between the government and a technology company,” the CNBC report continues. “Law enforcement authorities say that encryption used by the likes of Apple makes it harder for them to solve cases and stop terrorist attacks.”

The Associated Press notes that as the FBI was attempting to access the data on the iPhone, the bureau insisted “for weeks” that it needed Apple’s assistance. The FBI went as far as to compel the Justice Department to request that a magistrate direct Apple help them circumvent the security features on the phone.

Apple resisted the order, saying the request “set a dangerous precedent and could undercut security protections for its customers,” the Associated Press reports.

The lawsuit brought by the media groups Friday seeks to “to learn who the government paid and how much it spent to hack into an iPhone in its investigation into last year’s San Bernardino, California, massacre,” according to the Associated Press.

“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 Associated Press quotes from the lawsuit.

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“The suit by the media organizations argues that there was no legal basis to withhold the information and challenges the adequacy of the FBI’s search for relevant records,” the Associated Press report continues. “It also said 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.”

The Associated Press states that the lawsuit sites multiple media reports that say the FBI acknowledged it found no links to foreign terrorist organizations in the data recovered from the iPhone.

Farook, 28, was a U.S. citizen. He met Malik, 29, through an online dating service, a CNN profile of the shooters reads. They met face-to-face for the first time when Farook visited Saudi Arabia, where Malik lived after immigrating there from Pakistan.

Farook worked as an environmental health specialist with the San Bernardino County health department. The health department was hosting a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center when Farook and Malik orchestrated the attack, CNN reports. They left their six-month-old daughter with Farook’s mother before leaving to carry out the attack.

The lawsuit against the FBI was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

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