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Across the Nation: Media companies sue FBI over iPhone encryption records

Media companies sue FBI over iPhone encryption records

WASHINGTON — The Associated Press and two other news organizations asked a judge Monday to force the federal government to reveal how much it paid for a tool to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters.

The news organizations said in a court filing there was “no adequate justification” for the FBI to continue to withhold information on the cost of the tool or the identity of the vendor that sold it. They said their requests were narrowly tailored and, contrary to the arguments of the FBI and Justice Department, did not seek information that would jeopardize national security or be exploited by America’s enemies.

“While it is undisputed that the vendor developed the iPhone access tool, the government has identified no rational reason why knowing the vendor’s identity is linked in any way to the substance of the tool, much less how such knowledge would reveal any information about the tool’s application,” lawyers for the news organizations wrote in the filing to the U.S. District Court in Washington.

The AP, Vice Media LLC and Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, sued the FBI in September. The news organizations sought to learn more about the mysterious transaction that cut short a legal dispute in which the government won a court order to force Apple Inc. to unlock the work phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in the December 2015 San Bernardino attack.

The FBI had maintained for weeks that only Apple could access the information on its phone, which was protected by encryption, but announced in March that it had ultimately broken or bypassed the company’s digital locks with the help of an unidentified third party. The government has refused to say how it acquired the tool or how much it paid, though FBI Director James Comey dropped a hint in April when he said the cost was more than he would make for the duration of his job— roughly seven years.

The Justice Department last month 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 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.”

But in their latest court filing, the news organizations said they never sought the sensitive information the FBI has said it wants to protect, such as how the tool worked. They said the government was improperly invoking national security exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, which they say mandates the release of the information.

“Release of this information goes to the very heart of FOIA’s purpose, allowing the public to assess government activity — here, the decision to pay public funds to an outside entity in possession of a tool that can compromise the digital security of millions of Americans,” the lawyers wrote.

 

Thanks, Donald: ACLU coffers swell since election

NEW YORK — The nearly century-old American Civil Liberties Union says it is suddenly awash in donations and new members as it does battle with President Donald Trump over the extent of his constitutional authority, with nearly $80 million in online contributions alone pouring in since the election.

That includes a record $24 million surge over two days after Trump banned people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The organization said its membership has more than doubled since the election to a record of nearly 1.2 million, and its Twitter following has tripled.

“It feels like we’re drinking from a fire hydrant,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, adding that the election has brought immigration, refugee, reproductive, civil and voting rights “to a high boil.”

“What’s really heartening is people are paying attention. They’re aware of the crisis on the horizon,” he said. “There’s a real sense of urgency.”

After Trump’s election, the ACLU greeted the age of Trump on its website and magazine with a fresh slogan: “See you in court.” That was the same expression Trump used in his tweeted response to a federal appeals court’s decision refusing to reinstate the travel ban.

The ACLU has won court orders in New York, Massachusetts and Maryland against the president’s travel ban. It has also filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents on the billionaire’s potential conflicts of interest. And it intends to bring a legal challenge accusing him of violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by accepting payments from foreign governments at his hotels and other properties.

Trump has defended the travel ban as critical to keeping America safe, saying terrorists could otherwise slip into the country. He predicted the courts will eventually find his order constitutional. Also, Trump’s business empire has said it will donate profits from any foreign governments that use his hotels.

The ACLU said it has raised $79 million online from nearly 1 million individuals since the election. It had no immediate figures for contributions made by other means.

The boost to the ACLU’s $220 million budget will allow it to spend more on its state operations, which Romero said became critical after some legislatures took Trump’s election as a license to promote anti-immigrant, anti-civil rights and anti-abortion legislation.

The 1,150-employee ACLU also plans to hire more lawyers and staff in New York and Washington and spend $13 million more on citizen engagement, including protests and lobbying. That is a new front for an organization that has primarily been a policy and legal group.

 

Prominent defense lawyer cleared in smuggling investigation

FRESNO, Calif. — Authorities will not recommend charges be filed against a central California criminal defense attorney who was under investigation after allegedly dropping off a box of contraband to a client at the Fresno County Jail.

The Fresno Bee reported Monday that Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti says attorney Tony Capozzi was cooperative when he met with detectives for an interview and that authorities will not recommend charges.

Capozzi came under investigation after an Oct. 11 incident where the attorney met with an inmate with a cardboard box filled with documents. Capozzi left the box with his client. It was later discovered that the box had a hidden compartment containing cellphones and over-the-counter medication.

 

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