On Friday, April 23rd, California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT, for short), an interdepartmental computer crime task force, broke down Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s front door while he was out to dinner with his wife. They were still there a few hours later when he returned, and served him with a warrant from a San Mateo, CA county judge. The warrant allowed REACT to search Chen’s house and seize any materials that were either “used as the means of committing a felony” or “tends to show that a felony has been committed or that a particular person has committed a felony.”
REACT seized four computers, two media servers, and a host of other gadgetry including cameras, cellphones (an iPhone and a Motorola Droid), and an iPad. They personally searched Chen, but did not question, arrest, or in any way contain him.
Gaby Darbyshire, Gawker Media’s chief counsel, immediately issued a response to the police, stating that Jason Chen is covered under both California’s shield law and the federal Privacy Protection Act. Says Jennifer Grannick of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
The federal Privacy Protection Act prohibits the government from seizing materials from journalists and others who possess material for the purpose of communicating to the public. The government cannot seize material from the journalist even if it’s investigating whether the person who possesses the material committed a crime.
Darbyshire’s letter therefore claims the warrant was invalid, and the items seized should be returned at once.
a. Those state and federal protections don’t apply here–if Jason Chen, Gizmodo, and/or Gawker Media are under investigation for felony charges themselves (for receiving stolen goods), they can’t hide behind journalist protection laws. Click here.