Three news organizations the Associated Press, Gannett, and Vice Media together filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday against the FBI seeking to have access to the agency's records pertaining to its contract with an unnamed iPhone security expert earlier this year. As the AP reports, the news orgs want to know both the identity of the hacker, and how much the government paid him or her.
You'll recall that back in March the FBI abruptly dropped a lawsuit they had filed against Apple seeking to force the company to hack into the iPhone 5C that belonged to deceased San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook. The government argued that they had a national security concern in finding out whether Farook had direct contact with or direction from a member of ISIS, and they tried to argue that the All Writs Act allowed them to compel a company to break its own encryption technology.
The hacker, who's never been named by the government despite requests under the Freedom of Information Act, was reportedly a "gray hat," or one who identifies as neither mischievous nor selflessly good, but one who seeks to profit from his or knowledge by selling it to governments.
It was later surmised, via a vague statement made to the New York Times by FBI chief James B. Comey Jr., that the government may have paid upwards of $1.3 million for the job, but no one has confirmed the actual contract amount.
USA Today, whose parent company is Gannett, explains that all three news organizations filing suit had tried to discover the identity of the hacker and the amount of the contract, but the FBI repeatedly refused their requests saying "revealing the records would imperil its enforcement efforts."
The case drew the attention of the technology industry, privacy advocates, and security experts worldwide because of its potentially broad-reaching implications. Apple CEO Tim Cook, responding to the government's request that the company create a new version of its operating system to circumvent the security in iOS 9, said, "Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control." He also wrote in the same response, "In the wrong hands, this software which does not exist today would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession."
Confirming Cook's fear, after the successful hack, the FBI openly offered to help other law enforcement agencies use the tool they'd found to hack into other iPhones though experts concluded that the hack was likely only going to be useful for iPhone 5C models with iOS 9 installed.
The exiled Edward Snowden, who via Twitter has become something of a pundit on topics of government overreach and privacy, tweeted the day that the government dropped its suit against Apple and proclaimed its own successful hack, "Journalists: please remember that [the] government argued for months that this was impossible, despite expert consensus."