Media groups sue FBI for not revealing how it unlocked iPhone

Three news organizations have filed a lawsuit against the FBI for not sharing information related to how it unlocked the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino gunmen in March. The lawsuit seeks to require the FBI to disclose the documents.

The Associated Press, USA Today and Vice News filed the lawsuit Friday after the FBI denied each of their Freedom of Information Act requests seeking documentation on the business arrangement between the FBI and the hackers and how much the bureau spent on the tool that unlocked the phone, according to a statement from Vice.

The FBI denied the organizations' FOIA requests, saying the documents in question were exempt from disclosure, as they were "compiled for law enforcement purposes" and that disclosing them "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings," according to Vice's statement.

However, the lawsuit says the requested information regarding the iPhone hack is in the public interest, and the FBI has "no lawful basis" for denying the requests.

"The public is entitled to know the nature of the vendors the Government finds it necessary to deal with in cases of access to private information, including whether or not the FBI feels compelled to contract with groups of hackers with suspect reputations, because it will inform the public debate over whether the current legislative apparatus is sufficient to meet the Government's needs for such information," according to the lawsuit.

Additionally, the lawsuit said disclosing the documentation is a matter of transparency, especially as the government has not officially revealed how much it paid for the tool to unlock the phone.

"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," reads the complaint.

While the FBI has not disclosed the exact amount paid, FBI Director James Comey suggested during a cybersecurity panel in April the bureau paid more than $1 million for the tool.

The FBI in February ordered Apple to unlock the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters of the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in December that killed 14 people and wounded 22 more. The FBI was unable to access data on the phone due to Apple's security features. When Apple said it would not comply with the order, it set off a debate on balancing companies' role in safeguarding consumer information with federal investigations.

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