The Associated Press took legal action against the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday over the FBI's failure to give public records connected to the creation of a fake news story the agency used to install surveillance software on a suspect's PC.
AP worked with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to file the proceedings in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
In question is a 2014 Freedom of Information appeal seeking files related to an incident where the FBI sent a web link of a bogus article to a 15-year-old boy alleged to have made bomb threats against a high school close to Olympia, Washington.
The web link made it possible for the FBI to infect the suspect's PC with software that showed its location and Internet address.
AP has strongly objected to the trick, which was exposed last year in files acquired through a separate FOIA appeal made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
In a 2014 letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder, AP General Counsel Karen Kaiser said, "The FBI both misappropriated the trusted name of The Associated Press and created a situation where our credibility could have been undermined on a large scale."
"It is improper and inconsistent with a free press for government personnel to masquerade as The Associated Press or any other news organization," Kaiser stated. "The FBI may have intended this false story as a trap for only one person. However, the individual could easily have reposted this story to social networks, distributing to thousands of people, under our name, what was essentially a piece of government disinformation," he added.
In a November opinion article in The New York Times, James Comey, the FBI Director, said that a covert FBI agent had also posed as an AP journalist, asking the suspect if he would be ready to review a draft publication about the attack threats.
Comey depicted the approach as "proper and appropriate" under Justice Department principles in place at that time. He said such a trick would likely need higher-level approvals currently than it did in 2007, but that it would still be legal "and, in a rare case, appropriate."
In a conference with journalists the next month, Comey left open the probability that an agent might again impersonate journalist, though he said such an approach ought to be uncommon and "done cautiously with considerable supervision, if it's going to be done."
The revelations come at a time where increased government spying has negatively impacted American businesses. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and IBM, all shown to have collaborated with the NSA in spying on international governments, have lodged numerous complaints about the practice negatively impacting their ability to do business in places like China and Germany, where the offenses took place.
Thanks to secret FISA courts, the companies are unable to protest the forced collaboration nor alert customers.