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The FBI might be forced to reveal how much it costs to hack an iPhone

Published Feb 21st, 2017 9:02PM EST
iPhone Hacks in San Bernardino Case

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About a year ago, Apple went head to head with the FBI over an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI wanted to force Apple to break into the handset by creating a backdoored version of iOS that would bypass the phone’s lockscreen. Apple wanted none of it, and a PR battle emerged between the two parties.

Ultimately, both won. Apple did not have to comply with the FBI’s requests, and the FBI got that handset unlocked by hiring an unnamed third-party to hack the handset.

The FBI has never shared any information regarding that operation. We have no idea how much it cost, what information the FBI obtained, and who hacked the handset. However, we might soon get some answers, as three news organizations have asked a judge to force the government to reveal how much it paid for the technology required to break the San Bernardino’s iPhone security.

The Associated Press, Vice Media, and Gannet (USA Today) told a judge there’s “no adequate justification” for the FBI to withhold that information, the BBC reports.

“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,” the filing reads.

“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.”

If forced to comply, the FBI might also reveal more details about the security company hired to crack the iPhone. The intelligence agency hinted that it may have paid at least $1.3 million for the hack, without specifying an actual figure.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.