I have already claimed to have published my “final thoughts on Gizmodo” but as it turns out, I have little bit more to say. When I wrote that piece I suspected that the story was over, Apple had been given their iPhone back and I didn’t expect them or the district attorney to do anything about it. Of course this was silly of me, especially since I know next to nothing about lawsuits and police investigations.
Gizmodo reports that last Friday night, California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team entered Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home and seized four computers, two servers, and a few external hard drives. Gizmodo has chosen to publish the search warrant documentation with Jason Chen’s personal details pixelated. Gizmodo doesn’t seem to have any problem publishing the Apple employee’s details, but when it comes to their own they’ve decided to pixelate them. I guess I don’t understand that at all.
The folks at Gizmodo are arguing that journalist shield laws protect them from search and seizure. However, Henry Blodget argues that shield laws are beside the point.
From Henry Blodget’s recent piece on Business Insider:
The search warrant is ambiguous about the specific reason the police gave for the search and seizure. Specifically, it’s possible–likely, even–that the police believe Gawker Media committed the felony by acquiring the iPhone (“buying stolen property”).
If that’s the “probable cause” the police used to obtain the warrant, the journalist shield law may not apply.
Shield laws are put into place to protect sources who may have committed crimes, it doesn’t protect journalists who have committed crimes. Especially ones who have openly admitted to purchasing something that, under California law, is stolen property (which in this case happens to be a felony).
The question is whether Jason Chen or the finder of the iPhone is the target of this investigation. If it is the finder of the iPhone than Gizmodo could argue that the search warrant is invalid and they instead should have issued a subpoena to try and obtain information from Jason Chen. But, if Jason Chen and Gizmodo or Gawker Media are (and I suspect they are) the target of this investigation than shield laws are irrelevant.
But, Gizmodo’s argument hasn’t seemed to hold up the investigation for too long. CNET is reporting that the investigation is “poised to expand.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the editors at Engadget will be the target of a subpoena in an attempt to gather information about the finder of the iPhone. Engadget was offered the unit. However, after consulting their lawyers they decided against purchasing it.
It’s clear that Gizmodo got themselves into a sticky situation and I have little faith that they’ll manage to come out of this unscathed.