Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in London, FBI Director James Comey didn’t cite a precise figure for how much the government paid for the solution to cracking the phone but said it was more than his salary for the seven-plus years remaining in his term at the FBI.

The debate between privacy and national security has never been more heated, with Apple and other tech firms going up against the government. So how are text messages encrypted, and what are the controversial “backdoors” that could allow access to them?

His annual salary is about $180,000 a year, so that comes to $1.26 million or more.

“[We] paid a lot’’ for the hacking tool, Mr. Comey said. “But it was worth it.’’

The U.S. government said Monday it is dropping its legal case against Apple after it managed to access the iPhone of one of the gunmen in the San Bernardino terrorist attack with help from an unidentified third party.

The public fight between the FBI and Apple Inc. over the work phone of Syed Rizwan Farook has focused attention on broader issues of data encryption, privacy and security. Mr. Farook and his wife killed 14 people and wounded 22 in a Dec. 2 shooting rampage at a holiday gathering of county employees.

The couple died later that day in a shootout with police and the FBI recovered Mr. Farook’s phone, but couldn’t open it due to the security features on the iPhone.

The Justice Department, seeking any evidence of other crimes or suspects, sought a court order in February to force Apple to write software that would open the device, but the company resisted, saying to do so would compromise the security of millions of other iPhones.

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