FBI Director James Comey has made public enough details about the bureau buying a tool to unlock an iPhone as part of a terrorism investigation that the agency should also release how much it cost, The Associated Press and two other news organizations said in court papers Monday.
The media companies said Comey has spoken “at length and in detail” about the FBI’s purchase last year of a tool that enabled it to break into the work phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two shooters in the December 2015 San Bernardino, California, attack.
They told a judge that now that Comey has publicly offered a ballpark price that the FBI paid, and has spoken generally about the limitations of the tool, the bureau should be forced to provide the news organizations with the information they sought.
The AP, Vice Media LLC and Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, sued the FBI in September under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting details on how much the FBI paid, as well as the identity of the vendor.
“While the FBI may have preferred that Comey not seek to justify the agency’s purchase so publicly, by doing so he rendered the price subject to disclosure,” lawyers for the media organizations said in the latest filing in the case.
The Justice Department in January provided some heavily redacted records from the transaction, but withheld critical details that the AP was seeking. The government argued that the information it withheld, if released, could be seized upon by “hostile entities” that could develop their own countermeasures and interfere with the FBI’s intelligence gathering.
It also said in the court filing that disclosure “would result in severe damage to the FBI’s efforts to detect and apprehend violators of the United States’ national security and criminal laws through these very activities and methods.”