Earlier this year, the FBI and Apple were embroiled in a bitter battle of words with regards to unlocking an iPhone 5c that was used by Syed Farook, one of two San Bernardino shooters. After much bluster on the part of FBI, and complete stonewalling from Apple, the FBI eventually went to a third-party vendor to bypass the iPhone 5c’s security protocols and obtain the data it was searching for.
With the Freedom of Information Act on their side, three news organizations — the Associated Press, USA Today, and Vice Media — reached out to the FBI to obtain details on how the hack was carried out on the iPhone 5c in question, and how much was paid to the third-party for access. FBI director James Comey previously revealed that it cost more than he would make for the remainder of his term, which is roughly 7 years. At an estimated salary of $185,100 per year, that would put the rough cost for the hack at over $1 million.
Unfortunately, the FBI denied the repeated requests for information, so the three news organizations have filed a lawsuit to get what they want. The lawsuit alleges that “there is no lawful basis” to keep the information requested out of the public space.
"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 suit alleges.
The AP and the other two organizations also said that it’s important that Apple is made aware of the method used to unlock the iPhone 5c so that it can ensure that its customers are protected from future hacks that could compromise their personal information.
For its part, the Obama administration has tried to stay at arm’s length from the controversy, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest saying that transparency is incredibly important and that "given the sensitive nature of the information, we’ve been quite limited in what we can discuss openly."