April 26, 2010 1:40 PM PDT

Police seize Gizmodo's computers in iPhone probe

by Greg Sandoval and Declan McCullagh

Police have seized computers and servers belonging to an editor of Gizmodo in an investigation that appears to stem from the gadget blog's purchase of a lost Apple iPhone prototype.

Deputies from the San Mateo County Sheriff's office obtained a warrant on Friday and searched Jason Chen's Fremont, Calif., home later that evening, Gizmodo acknowledged on Monday.

In an article on Friday, CNET was the first to report on the criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the iPhone prototype and Gizmodo's acquisition of it, including that Apple had contacted local police. A San Mateo County judge signed the search warrant, which said a felony crime was being investigated, a few hours later.

"When I got home, I noticed the garage door was half-open," according to an account by Chen. "And when I tried to open it, officers came out and said they had a warrant to search my house and any vehicles on the property 'in my control.' They then made me place my hands behind my head and searched me to make sure I had no weapons or sharp objects on me."

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told CNET on Monday: "This is such an incredibly clear violation of state and federal law it takes my breath away. The only thing left for the authorities to do is return everything immediately and issue one of hell of an apology."

Dalglish said that the San Mateo County search warrant violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which broadly immunizes news organizations from searches--unless, in some cases, the journalists themselves committed the crime. The 1980 federal law requires police to use subpoenas to obtain information instead of search warrants, she said.

Editors at Gizmodo, part of Gawker Media's blog network, last week said they paid $5,000 for what they believed to be a prototype of a future iPhone 4G. The story said the phone was accidentally left at a bar in Redwood City, Calif., last month by an Apple software engineer and found by someone who contacted Gizmodo, which had previously indicated that it was willing to pay significant sums for unreleased Apple products.

CNET has not been able to confirm whether the investigation is targeting Gizmodo, the source who reportedly found the iPhone in a bar, or both. Apple has acknowledged that the lost device is its property. Calls to law enforcement sources on Monday were not immediately returned.
Cnet