Report: FBI paid professional hackers in iPhone case, plus other encryption news

What’s a week without Apple vs. FBI news?

• The FBI didn’t hire a security company to crack open the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone — it reportedly paid hackers who found a previously unknown software flaw. That’s according to the Washington Post, which cites unnamed sources.

Previous reports had speculated that Celebrite, an Israeli company, had helped the U.S. unlock the phone. But the Post writes that the hackers came from “the sometimes shadowy world” of hackers and researchers who find security flaws and sell them for profit.

• Proposed California legislation that would have imposed fines on phone makers that don’t comply with court orders to decrypt their devices was rejected Tuesday. AB 1681 didn’t receive a vote, the Sacramento Bee reported. The bill had been backed by law enforcement and opposed by the tech industry, which said the bill would’ve been a threat not just to privacy but to security.

There are other bills elsewhere that try to address the tough questions involving technology, privacy and security. A federal bill by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr would require companies to unscramble data on devices when the government asks.

• Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey reportedly said this week that the battle between the government and Apple in the San Bernardino case “posed ‘the hardest problem I’ve encountered in my entire government career.’ ”

Comey also said “Apple is not a demon,” and that he hoped people didn’t see the FBI as a demon, either.

While the San Bernardino legal battle is over, the feds are continuing with a case against Apple over another iPhone they’re seeking to unlock in a New York drug-trafficking investigation.


Photo: Protester Victoria Bernal shows off her phone with the message “BACKDOORS ENDANGER EVERYONE” outside the Apple store in downtown Palo Alto, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)


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