In the wake of one of the biggest technology scoops in recent memory — tech blog Gizmodo's acquisition and revelation of a iPhone 4G prototype still months from release — police have raided the home of one of the site's editors. Last Friday, state authorities broke down the door at Jason Chen's San Mateo, CA, home and seized computers and other possession as part of a "felony" investigation apparently related to the blog's purchase of the iPhone prototype, which had been left in a Silicon Valley bar by an Apple engineer. Gawker Media, Gizmodo's parent company, paid a still-unnamed party $5,000 for the device. Responding to the suggestion that Gawker and Chen may have broken the law, company executive Gaby Darbyshire says the raid clearly violated California's reporter shield laws. What's going on here? (Watch a Bloomberg report about the police raid)
The police were out of line: "I would like to see the government's response" to Darbyshire, says Sam Bayard in the Citizen Media Law Project blog, "but it looks like the search warrant was invalid under" California law. There is little question as to whether or not Jason Chen legally qualifies as a journalist. "So the shield law almost certainly" protects his possession and notes from this sort of police action.
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What if Chen comitted a felony? While Darbyshire "is absolutely correct" in her interpretation of California reporter shield laws, says blogger Choire in The Awl, it's quite possible that "the police are investigating the editor himself as the person who committed the felony." Yes, Chen is a journalist. But we may "find out that journalism and/or blogging is totally incidental to what happened here."
The situation is still quite murky: The search warrant "is ambiguous about the specific reason the police gave for the search and seizure," says Henry Blodget in Business Insider. So figuring out who, exactly, is the target of the felony investigation is difficult. But it's "possible —likely, even— that the police believe Gawker Media committed the felony by acquiring the iPhone."
Still, it looks like a disaster for all involved: Regardless of who's being investigated here, says Andrew Leonard in Salon, "no one ends up looking good in this mess." Apple CEO Steve Jobs comes across as "a control freak with police powers." Apple employees prove they "don't know how to take care of super-secret prototypes." And the pursuit of the page-view jackpot apparently turns reporters into black market entrepreneurs.
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