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Raiders of the Lost iPhone

Raiders of the Lost iPhone

Will Gizmodo's Jason Chen land in the cooler for his part in leaking Apple's next-gen iPhone to the world? Or did Silicon Valley's High Tech Task Force violate legal protections established to shield journalists when they raided the editor's home? Those are the questions at the heart of the building controversy, in which a lot more could be lost than an iPhone.

Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home was raided by the Silicon Valley High Technology Task Force on Friday following the tech blog's recent purchase of an Apple iPhone prototype. Authorities seized four computers and two servers during the raid.

The raid followed the alleged theft of the iPhone after Gray Powell, an engineer at Apple, reportedly walked out of the Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City, Calif., leaving the phone behind on a barstool.

Neither the Task Force nor Apple returned MacNewsWorld's calls requesting comment.

Chen declined to comment for this story but referred MacNewsWorld to information published on Gizmodo, including the search warrant and his description of the incident.

Legal Tangle

The search of the editor's home was based on Cal Penal Code Sec. 485 and Cal Penal Code Sec. 496 regarding receipt of stolen property, David Heller, senior staff attorney for the Media Law Resource Center, told MacNewsWorld. The search warrant was issued for materials used to commit a felony.

However, shield laws exist to protect journalists from having to turn over materials related to their reporting.

"Under the California shield law, a journalist's unpublished information and confidential sources are protected," said Heller. "Another section of the California penal code, Sec. 1524 (g), prohibits search warrants to obtain this information from a journalist -- and 'journalist' has been broadly defined to cover someone exactly in the position of the Gizmodo editor."

Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media -- the network that includes Gizmodo among its publications -- also pointed to Sec. 1524 (g) in Chen's defense.

"It does seem to me that Gaby Darbyshire is quite correct in her layout of the California statutory law on the matter, which on its face would seem to bar a search and seizure order for journalistic work materials and the identity of sources," Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, told MacNewsWorld.

"The standards for obtaining source and other materials from journalists is a stiff one in California, and by engaging in this search and seizure, law enforcement has undermined the very protections that the law seeks to provide journalists," Baron said.

Phone Home

After publishing its scoop on the iPhone prototype, Gizmodo said it returned the device to Apple.

However, the process by which Chen obtained the iPhone was what the search aimed to uncover, according to Baron.

"They're engaging in an investigation of his news gathering," she said.

"The actions by law enforcement in California are very troubling," Baron added. "California has always been very protective of journalists. If a journalist is confronted by a demand for his or her work product, it at least allows the journalist to go into court and contest it. At a minimum, it would allow the journalist to quash a subpoena and demand that law enforcement make a very powerful showing of need."

Past cases in which journalists refused to turn over news-gathering materials led to the jailings of The New York Times' Judith Miller and freelance journalist Josh Wolf.


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