Less than ten days after the tech blog Gizmodo published pictures of Apple’s next iPhone model, the police raided the home of a Gizmodo editor and what began as a story about the next hot gadget has morphed into a story about media ethics, the First Amendment, and the power of Apple Inc.
As you may know by now, soon after its initial post revealing the next generation iPhone, Gizmodo published a version of events of how it acquired the iPhone: Apple engineer Gray Powell left the iPhone at the bar at Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City, CA, near the company’s headquarters. An unidentified person picked it up and, according to Gizmodo, tried in vain to contact someone at Apple to return it to. Gizmodo ultimately acquired the prototype iPhone for $5,000 in cash.
Nearly 10 million pageviews later (on the original post alone), the police, bearing a warrant, on Friday raided Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home and seized several computers.
Here’s a roundup of the best commentary and reporting on the story:
Apple appears to be on the steering committee of the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT), the joint local-state-federal law enforcement operation that raided Chen’s home, Yahoo News reports.
An “outside counsel” for Apple called the San Mateo County district attorney’s office to report a theft and request an investigation, the San Jose Business Journal reports.
The warrant for the raid Friday said police had probable cause to believe Chen’s property “was used as the means of committing a felony.”
In an email to Apple’s general counsel, who requested the return of the iPhone, Gizmodo editorial director Brian Lam acknowledges that the phone was stolen — but maintains Gizmodo did not know that when it acquired the phone: “Happy to have you pick this thing up. Was burning a hole in our pockets. Just so you know, we didn’t know this was stolen when we bought it. Now that we definitely know it’s not some knockoff, and it really is Apple’s, I’m happy to see it returned to its rightful owner.”
In a letter to police Saturday, Gaby Darbyshire, chief operating officer of Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, demanded an immediate return of the seized property. “Under both state and federal law, a search warrant may not be validly issued to confiscate the property of a journalist,” she wrote, adding that because he works at home, it is a de facto newsroom.
According to Bloomberg, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said that Gawker Media’s letter is under review and that, in Bloomberg’s words, “law enforcement officials don’t plan to search Chen’s computers until they can determine the validity of Gawker’s claim about his status as a journalist.”
The New York Times Monday cited unnamed people familiar with the investigation as saying last week that “charges would most likely be filed against the person or people who sold the prototype iPhone, and possibly the buyer.”
Authorities have identified and talked to the person who took the phone from the German restaurant — but it’s unclear if that’s the person who sold the phone to Gizmodo, according to the San Jose Business Journal.
The Times Bits Blog delved into the legal issues and concludes that the key question is whether California’s shield law — designed to protect journalists — would apply to a case of potentially stolen property.