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Police seize computers, other property of blogger who wrote about supposed lost iPhone

Jason-chen iphone4
Jason Chen with the alleged next generation iPhone. "We got it. We disassembled it. It's the real thing," he wrote. Image: Screen capture from Gizmodo.com
Police in San Mateo County served a search warrant at the home of Jason Chen, a technology blogger who had posted extensive information about a lost mobile device he claimed was an unreleased version of Apple's Inc. blockbuster iPhone.

According to documents and accounts posted on Gizmodo, Chen's blog, police raided the blogger's house on Friday night and seized nearly two dozen pieces of electronic equipment, including computers, hard drives, digital cameras and other devices.

According to the warrant displayed on the Gizmodo site, a search had been approved because the property sought "was used as a means of committing a felony" or "tends to show a felony has been committed."

Last week, Gizmodo acknowledged having paid $5,000 for what they said was a next generation iPhone that been lost by an Apple engineer at a beer garden in Silicon Valley in March.  According to the blog, another bar patron found the phone and eventually wound up selling it to Gizmodo.

The photos and description of the putative lost iPhone captivated the online audience and became one of Gizmodo's most popular posts ever, but speculation quickly followed that Gizmodo may have paid money for an item that the finder did not actually own -- and that such a transaction might have legal implications.

But Gaby Darbyshire, the chief operating officer of Gawker Media -- Gizmodo's parent company -- wrote in a letter to the investigating officer that Gawker believed the warrant was invalid, given Chen's status as a journalist.

Darbyshire cited parts of California state law noting that search warrants may not be issued for a reporter's "notes, outtakes, photographs, tapes or other data of whatever sort" that was not made public as part of the published report.

"The California Court of Appeals has made it abundantly clear that these protections apply to online journalists," wrote Darbyshire, citing a 2006 case also involving leaked trade secrets from Apple. In that instance, the court held that Apple could not subpoena writers at a technology blog in order to identify the source of product information leaks.

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In another account posted on Gizmodo, Chen detailed the scene Friday night when the warrant was served.  Having arrived home with his wife at 9:45p.m., Chen said he found police had broken down his front door to cart away his equipment. Police also searched Chen himself, he said.

-- David Sarno 

 
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