Society

Amount Paid To Hack San Bernardino Phone Revealed

| by Simone Stover

A senator has revealed the amount that the FBI paid to hack into the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone. 

In December of 2015, Syed Farook and his wife carried out an attack in San Bernardino, California, which left 14 people dead. Following the event, the U.S. government sought Apple's help in accessing the information stored on Farook's iPhone 5C, according to CNN. Apple refused, stating that doing so would compromise the privacy of all users of Apple products. Apple's refusal resulted in the commencement of a legal battle between the company and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In March of 2016, CNN reported that the DOJ had dropped the case against Apple after an unidentified third party had come forward and helped the FBI gain access to the iPhone. The following month, FBI Director James Comey said that the government had purchased a tool from the unidentified party in order to access the phone. Comey said that the tool would not be able to access the iPhone 5S or newer iPhone models.

Comey did not name the exact amount that the government had paid to gain access to the phone. However, Reuters reported that based on comments he had made -- stating that the figure was more than he would make in his remaining run as FBI director -- the amount paid would have been at least $1.3 million.

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According to Reuters, Comey commented that although the amount was high, he believed the payment to be "worth it." 

On May 5, The Associated Press reported that Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- who is part of the Senate committee that oversees the FBI -- had revealed the exact amount that was paid to gain access to the phone.

"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," Feinstein said, according to the AP. "And as I subsequently learned of some of the reason for it, there were good reasons to get into that device."

Feinstein's comments were made while questioning Comey at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing which took place on May 3. Following Feinstein's statements, her spokesman, Tom Mentzer, refused to disclose whether the figure was an estimate or whether it had been disclosed during an FBI briefing. 

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Although Feinstein named the amount that had been paid, she did not identify the party who had provided the government with the tool that was used to hack the iPhone. According to the AP, both itself and other news organizations have filed a public records lawsuit which would force the FBI to reveal both the identity of the third party and how much the FBI paid to gain the tool that was used. In court filings, the DOJ has said that the information was properly classified. 

Sources: AP via CNBC, CNN (2), Reuters / Photo credit: Karlis Dambrans/Flickr

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