On Sept. 16, the Associated Press (AP), USA Today and Vice news networks filed a collective lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for details about the FBI's controversially successful hack of the iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooters.
The three major news agencies are pressing charges to determine what sources the FBI used to crack the iPhone's code and how much government money was involved. The FBI refused to supply answers and claimed exemption from doing so under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a law which grants every citizen the right to access the records of any federal agency.
The FBI's investigation of the San Bernardino shooters probed for ties to other terrorist groups – namely, ISIS.
However, the lawsuit complaint reveals that "investigators long ago stated that they had uncovered no connection between the shooters and any foreign terrorist groups."
The news organizations are demanding answers for the public, whose taxpayer funds were used to hire an unidentified third-party vendor to hack the iPhone.
According to the lawsuit, the FBI sanctioned the third-party to "retain this potentially dangerous technology without any public assurance about what that vendor represents, whether the vendor has adequate security measures...is a proper recipient of government funds, or whether it will act only in the public interest."
The FBI cracked the iPhone code in late March with the help of unidentified, low-profile "researchers" who were paid a one-time flat fee of over at least a million dollars, reports The Washington Post and Reuters. The Department of Justice then dropped their legal case with Apple on March 28. The legal battle had ensued on the grounds of the All Writs Act which enabled the government to order Apple's cooperation on the basis that there were no other alternative methods to unlocking the iPhone. Apple had and continues to object the request to build a backdoor feature in the iPhone because it would set a dangerous precedent.
But as it turns out, there is an alternative method to hacking the iPhone. CNET suggests possible methods, such as NAND mirroring, software flaw exploits or lasering the passcode chip. According to CNN, the Department of Justice refused to share details of the hack and did not confirm whether this method works on other devices, but it has been established that whatever method was used did indeed crack the code on the shooters' iPhone 5C which ran a version of the iOS 9 software.
And now that the FBI has hacked the iPhone system, what's stopping them from using the same technique on other phones with similar software?
TechCrunch reasons that if the FBI "found a software exploit, this exploit should work with all iPhones running on this version of iOS 9 (and most likely the current version of iOS, iOS 9.3) — even those with a Secure Enclave and a Touch ID sensor. It’s like the government wants to make sure it can ask Apple to unlock other phones in the future."
So it's no wonder the American public is in a panic, especially since the U.S. government hasn't proven itself as all that trustworthy or dependable over the recent years.
From the 2013 National Security Agency (NSA) scandal to North Korea's cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014 to China's 2015 cyberattacks on American networks and now this, the government has continually failed to secure and protect the American people's privacy from both dishonest government agencies and foreign threats.
Nonetheless, in regards to the FBI's iPhone hack case, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told USA Today that the Obama administration has "tried to be as transparent as possible," but "given the sensitive nature of the information, we’ve been quite limited in what we can discuss openly."
So for now, the public is still being kept in the dark about the case.