Journalists are already getting warmed up for the next big Apple event, the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, where they will most likely get a look at the next generation of the iPhone. But there might be fewer people lined up, and not just because we got a peek inside the new model when photos of a prototype were leaked on a blog two weeks ago. We also got an unflattering peek inside the company itself.
After Gizmodo, a gadget blog owned by Gawker Media, paid $5,000 to obtain a next-generation iPhone that an unfortunate Apple engineer left sitting in a Silicon Valley bar, things started to get ugly out there in gadget land. Officers from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office kicked in a journalist’s doors and confiscated computers. Apple didn’t do the kicking, but it apparently filed a complaint — not seeking the return of their phone, which they had already retrieved, but information.
Perhaps the law is on the side of Apple and that of the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, California’s high-tech crimes task force, which served the search warrant (Apple is represented on the public agency’s board). Perhaps Gizmodo was involved in the felony theft of property when it paid $5,000 and published photos and videos of the device. Perhaps Jason Chen, the Gizmodo blogger who lost four computers and two servers to the police last week, is not protected by the California shield law intended to prevent the authorities from seizing journalists’ reporting materials without a subpoena (that matter is currently under consideration so the police and county attorneys have held off combing through the computers).
Gizmodo editor Jason Chen said the phone had been left at a bar in Redwood City by one of Apple Inc.’s engineers. Chen arranged to return the iPhone when the company posted a letter by its lawyer asking for its return last week. Last Friday, a special computer-crime task force made up of different law enforcement agencies searched Chen’s house and car in Fremont, Calif., and took computers, servers and accessories. The search warrant said the computer and other devices may have been used to commit a felony. Investigators also seized Chen’s credit card bills and copies of his checks. Chen’s lawyers argue that California’s shield law, which protects journalists from having to turn over anonymous sources or unpublished material to law enforcement during a search, should apply to him.