- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Disclosing additional details involving how the FBI unlocked an Apple iPhone at the center of a terrorism probe would be detrimental to national security, attorneys for the bureau argued in court filings Monday.

Nearly a year after the FBI spurred a heated security debate in a bid to access the contents of a password-protected smartphone recovered from the scene of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, attorneys for the government defended its decision to largely withhold information about how it eventually unlocked terrorism suspect Syed Farook’s iPhone.

The FBI ultimately hired an third-party vendor to hack into Farook’s iPhone for an undisclosed sum last year after the government unsuccessfully sued Apple in hopes of compelling the company’s assistance. Several news outlets soon after filed Freedom of Information Act requests in an effort to uncover information about that contract, including the name of the company hired and the amount it was paid.

The Associated Press, Gannett and Vice News subsequently sued the FBI in September after their inquiries were repeatedly rejected.

The FBI conclusively released 100 pages concerning the contract earlier this month, albeit rife with redactions and largely absent information sought by the plaintiffs. In an explanation filed Monday in federal court, the FBI’s attorneys said that the majority of the details were withheld because their disclosure “could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security for several reasons.”

“First, the information would allow hostile entities to discover the current intelligence gathering methods used, as well as the capabilities and limitations of those methods,” attorneys for the FBI argued in a lengthy memorandum filed in D.C. federal court Monday.

“Second, hostile entities could use this detailed information to develop countermeasures which would seriously disrupt the FBI’s intelligence gathering capabilities,” the filing continued. “Third, 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, which were used in this instance to investigate a violent criminal/international terrorist and prevent further crimes national security threats.”

Authorities have attributed Farook and his wife with killing 14 people during a December 2015 rampage before dying in a shootout with police. The FBI maintained for weeks afterwards that only Apple was capable of bypassing the security measures that prevented investigators from accessing Farook’s iPhone, but dropped its court case against the company after acquiring the assistance of an unidentified third party.

President Trump previously called for a boycott of Apple products after the company balked at the government’s request.

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