San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies searched the home of Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen, who created an online sensation among Apple Inc. fans when he posted extensive information about a lost iPhone prototype, according to a message Monday on the site.
Gizmodo said the deputies, who had a search warrant when they arrived at Chen’s home Friday night, seized two dozen pieces of electronic equipment, including computers, hard drives and digital cameras.
According to the warrant displayed on the site, the search was sought because the property may have been “used as a means of committing a felony” or could “show a felony has been committed.”
Chen described the search scene in an e-mail to his lawyer, also posted on the site. Having arrived home with his wife at 9:45 p.m., Chen said he found officers had broken through his front door. He said the officers searched him for weapons.
Apple did not reply to a request for comment on the investigation.
Last week, Gizmodo acknowledged having paid $5,000 for what the site said was a next-generation iPhone 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 sold it to Gizmodo.
The photos and description of the alleged iPhone prototype became one of Gizmodo’s most popular posts ever, but speculation quickly followed that the site’s paying for an item the finder didn’t actually own could have legal implications.
Gaby Darbyshire, chief operating officer of Gawker Media, Gizmodo’s parent company wrote in a letter to the office in charge of the search that the company believed the warrant was invalid because Chen is a journalist and the material seized was unpublished information that is protected by state and federal law.
Darbyshire cited California law that says search warrants may not be issued for a reporter’s “notes, outtakes, photographs, tapes or other data of whatever sort” that was not published as part of a report.
“The California Court of Appeals has made it abundantly clear,” Darbyshire wrote, “that these protections apply to online journalists,” citing a 2006 case that also involved an Apple product. In that instance, the court held that Apple could not force writers at a technology blog to identify their sources.
Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said Chen’s work should be covered by the shield law. But he said that authorities might “have a different opinion as to whether or not this person is a journalist, or maybe they’re just ignorant of the shield law and the application of the Penal Code section to it.”