How much did FBI’s iPhone hack cost taxpayers?

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Hacking the iPhone 5c probably cost the FBI more than $1 million.
Hacking the iPhone 5c probably cost the FBI more than $1 million.
Photo: Apple

The FBI may soon be forced to reveal how much money it spent to hack into the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone 5c last year.

FBI Director James Comey told the public that his agency paid “more than I will make in the remainder of this job” to unlock the device after Apple refused to help. Now a group of news organizations have asked a judge to force the government to show exactly how much it cost taxpayers.


The Associated Press, Vice Media and Gannett filed a lawsuit against the FBI last year demanding more details on the hack. In the court filings, the group argues that there was no justification for the FBI to keep the information private.

Hacking iOS isn’t cheap

“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,” wrote the lawyers representing the new organizations.

Apple and the FBI locked horns in a public battle between national security and the protection of citizens’ privacy after the FBI recovered the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5c. The FBI demanded Apple create a backdoor into iOS in order to access information on the iPhone relevant to their investigation.

After being thwarted by Apple, the FBI hired Israeli tech firm Cellebrite to unlock the device. The device didn’t contain any new information, but Comey justified the expense, saying it was “worth it.”

Outsiders estimated that the cost was likely upward of $1.3 million. We should find out if it was even more costly if the news organizations win in court.

The group says it is not seeking information that would jeopardize national security.