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Apple Inc. refused to give the FBI software the agency desperately wanted. Now Apple is the one that needs the FBI’s assistance.

An illustration of an iPhone held up in front of the Apple Inc. logo taken Jan. 30, 2015. (Credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
An illustration of an iPhone held up in front of the Apple Inc. logo taken Jan. 30, 2015. (Credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

The FBI announced Monday that it managed to unlock an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters without the help of Apple. And the agency has shown no interest in telling Apple how it skirted the phone’s security features, leaving the tech giant guessing about a vulnerability that could compromise millions of devices.

“One way or another, Apple needs to figure out the details,” said Justin Olsson, product counsel at security software maker AVG Technologies. “The responsible thing for the government to do is privately disclose the vulnerability to Apple so they can continue hardening security on their devices.”

But that’s not how it’s playing out so far. The situation illuminates a process that usually takes place in secret: Governments regularly develop or purchase hacking techniques for law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts, and put them to use without telling affected companies.

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