A year after the public disagreement between Apple and the FBI, which centered on the passcode-locked iPhone 5c of the San Bernardino terrorist, one of the major questions remains how much the United States government and the FBI paid for the tool it used to crack open the iPhone. That question became so focused upon that a trio of news organizations filed a lawsuit to find out the exact amount that the tool cost the FBI.
Speculation in the midst of the Apple-FBI drama placed the price of the tool at upwards of $1.3 million, and then somewhere below $1 million. A recent statement by senator Dianne Feinstein appears to confirm the latter estimation, with Feinstein revealing that the U.S. government paid $900,000 to break into the locked iPhone 5c. The classified information came up during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, where Feinstein was questioning FBI director James Comey (via The Associated Press).
“I was so struck when San Bernardino happened and you made overtures to allow that device to be opened, and then the FBI had to spend $900,000 to hack it open,” said Feinstein, D-Calif. “And as I subsequently learned of some of the reason for it, there were good reasons to get into that device.”
In the ongoing lawsuit filed by the Associated Press, Vice Media, and Gannett, the organizations cite the Freedom of Information Act: “Release of this information goes to the very heart of the Freedom of Information Act’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 FBI has repeatedly argued that the number should stay classified.
Despite the ongoing legal battles that the Apple-FBI event sparked, last year the FBI reported that it found “nothing of real significance” after it had gained access to the iPhone 5c, providing answers to some questions about the terrorist attack but generating no solid leads. In regards to the third party who was paid the $900,000 for the hacking tool, it’s been widely reported that Israeli firm Cellebrite was the FBI’s source, but a more informal group of professional hackers has also been suggested.
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