Police Raid Gizmodo Editor's House, Seize Computers in Connection With iPhone Leak

iPhone 4

Disclosure: Up until a few months ago, I was employed by Gizmodo, but was not involved in any way with the iPhone leak. As part of an ongoing partnership, Fast Company sometimes syndicates Gizmodo stories and vice versa.

According to Gizmodo, California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team raided the home of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen on Friday night while Chen was out to dinner, searching for evidence in connection with the Apple iPhone 4 leak story Gizmodo published last week. The police team broke down his front door (Jason says they "bashed it open") and searched his house for "a few hours" before Chen even got home. Once he arrived, they served him with a warrant signed by a San Mateo, California judge and confiscated various items from his home. These included four computers, two servers, three hard drives, assorted gadgetry (cameras, iPhone, iPad, cellphones), and, oddly, a box of business cards.

Gaby Darbyshire, COO and legal counsel of Gizmodo's parent company, Gawker Media, immediately issued a response to the police claiming the raid violated reporter privilege. Reporter privilege (section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code) states that a warrant is not adequate to seize equipment used by a reporter if police or prosecutors are seeking "unpublished information" or undisclosed sources. Darbyshire's response says, "It is abundantly clear that under the law a search warrant to remove these items was invalid. The appropriate method of obtaining such materials would be the issuance of a subpoena."

Unusually, Nick Denton, who runs Gawker Media, has remained tight-lipped on the subject, issuing a statement to his employees stating "I hope you can understand that we can't really discuss this while the investigation proceeds." To the outside, he's said nothing more than "Do bloggers count as journalists? I guess we'll find out."

While undoubtedly traumatic for Chen, the police raid may well have been a huge mistake, especially considering, as The Awl suggests, reporter privilege may well apply. Press reaction to Gizmodo's purchasing of the massive iPhone leak story has been mixed, with some applauding the initiative and some questioning the ethics of buying news. Whatever is eventually determined about the source of the leaked iPhone prototype, it'll likely be overshadowed by a potential violation of First Amendment rights. Raiding a reporter's home office, especially while the reporter himself is away and potentially at night which was not authorized by the warrant, could cause other media to rally around Gizmodo. Gizmodo and Gawker Media as a whole are expert at playing the underdogs, often against mainstream media--and they may be able to milk the experience as a blow against the rights of an independent press.

We'll be following the story as it unfolds. To read the earlier chapters of the saga, check out our "From Start to Finish" timeline. Or Choose Your Own Adventure through the saga.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one--you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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4 Comments

  • stealth phone

    Turns out, it was a lucky break he was gone at the time. They also had orders from above to confiscate his liver.

  • b r

    The strong arm of the law use of force is absurd. The item was found and from the articles written on this it appears not to be stolen, therefore "salvage rights" on found object/lost object.

    Shame on the employee for not keeping a better eye on this yet to be released technology, sorry Steve Jobs the cats out of the bag and your world domination is briefly stymied

  • Patricia Butler

    It would seem that anyone holding on to a prototype phone from Apple is in possession of trade secrets that they are not entitled to have, nor publish. That may be a more valid, justifiable reason for a search warrant.

  • Scott Warner

    Now really does possessing an iphone, whatever the means that it was obtained really command splintering someones door off the jambs with a bogus warrant, at night and storming their home while they are not even there. This is another blatant abuse of police power. We're mistaken if we think we have rights in this country, ask Randy Weaver. I wonder if their weapons were drawn? Darbyshire is correct this should have been obtained via subpoena. Or maybe a detective stopping by or requesting Chen to come in for an interview and surrender the device. They knew he had possession of it or know where it might be. Maybe they figured Chen was a flight risk or armed with a lethal mobil app. I don't agree with revealing anyones proprietary research and labeling it the independent free press. Bottom line is this didn't belong to Gizmodo or Chen, it belonged to Apple, shame on Gizmodo, but really breaking down a door to get an iphone, how absurd and corrupt.