In a roundtable discussion on the topic of encryption technology, FBI deputy assistant director James Burrell revealed that the bureau has a budget of "hundreds of millions of dollars" for the development of technology for national security and domestic law enforcement.
The budget by the Operational Technology Division, which handles the FBI's investigative technology ranging from surveillance technology to robots, will soon inch closer to $1 billion. The Washington Post reported late last year that the division's budget is somewhere between $600 million and $800 million, and the FBI has requested for an additional budget of over $100 million for next year.
The additional budget includes more than $85 million to improve the bureau's cyber offense and defense technologies and more than $38 million to be spent on a counter to encryption and other hurdles during FBI investigations.
According to Burrell though, the budget of the division needs to be put into context. The resources of the Operational Technology Division are divided, with the tools being developed for investigations related to national security being different from those for domestic law enforcement. Burrell claims that the bureau is not able to use the technology used for one purpose for the other, due to the technology being classified.
It can be remembered that the FBI paid over $1 million to a third-party company for the development of the hacking tool which was able to break into the encryption-protected iPhone owned by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino tragedy. While the amount is the highest publicized figure ever paid for a hacking tool, it would seem to hardly have made a dent on the budget of hundreds of millions of dollars of the bureau.
The roundtable discussion, which was sponsored by the intelligence community, looked to spark discussion on the topic of encryption among scientists, tech officials, academics and developers. The meeting also aimed to come up with an answer on whether the authorities can be given access to secure devices without digital security being compromised.
The workshop was hosted by the National Academies of Science, Technology and Medicine. Among the attendees were NSA former deputy director Chris Inglis, FBI top lawyer James Baker and officials from companies including Apple and Microsoft.
Two months ago in April, the Supreme Court gave the FBI more hacking authority by allowing the judges in the United States to approve search warrants on PCs located in any jurisdiction. Previously, judges could only approve such search warrants within their jurisdiction.
The move, however, can still be modified or rejected by Congress.