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Gizmodo cooperating with law enforcement in iPhone 4 probe

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Allowing a potential fight over press freedoms to blow over, Gizmodo and its lawyers have opted to cooperate with investigators looking into the case of the misplaced iPhone 4 prototype -- a case that put a spotlight on Apple Inc. and Silicon Valley law enforcement earlier this year.

On Friday, a San Mateo Superior Court judge granted a prosecution request to withdraw the warrant that had allowed a high-technology task force to raid the home of Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen and seize computers, cameras, phones and other electronic equipment and documents.

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Instead of being allowed to freely search through the computers and equipment, investigators will be passed a limited number of documents from Gizmodo and Chen.

Shortly after an Apple engineer lost an iPhone in a Bay Area bar earlier this year, images and descriptions of the phone turned up on the Gizmodo blog, generating an unwelcome amount of attention for secretive Apple and kicking up a legal dust storm that enveloped Chen and his employer.

After the raid on Chen’s house in late April, the blogger’s attorneys immediately called the warrant’s validity into question, citing state and federal shield laws designed to limit law enforcement’s authority to search the records of the media. In part because of those objections, law enforcement officials have not searched the computers themselves.

Now, from a legal standpoint, it will be as though the search never happened.

‘In essence we’re going back the beginning as if no warrant was issued,’ said Thomas Nolan of Nolan, Armstrong & Barton, who is representing Chen. ‘The warrant has been withdrawn, law enforcement has not seen anything from the computers and will not be allowed to search the computers.

‘We’re treating this matter as a cooperative subpoena, and we’re providing them info they’d otherwise be entitled to -- nothing having to do with sources.’

And though Gizmodo’s part in the investigation may be winding down, the case remains open while authorities look at other suspects, including those who found and allegedly sold the phone to Gizmodo for $5,000. Many details of the investigation came to light when the San Mateo court released documents related to the search warrant.

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-- David Sarno

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