California-area prosecuting attorneys are defending the forced entry to the home of an online writer, as well as the seizure of his computers, as part of a criminal investigation surrounding a lost prototype for a new iPhone.
San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said on April 27 that consideration had been made on whether reporter-shield laws should prevent the search and seizure of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s property. But after reviewing the laws that protect journalists from having to turn over notes to law enforcement and other legal reaching into their work, they went through with the seizure, according to CNN.
Chen came into possession of what was discovered to be a new iPhone after it was found in a bar in Redwood City, Calif. An unknown person who found the phone then sold it to Gizmodo staff for $5,000. Apple then sent a letter to Gizmodo asking them to return the phone, which Gizmodo promptly did.
Yet Apple still reported a theft, which led to the search, Wagstaffe said. Officers who searched Chen’s home were from the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT), a law enforcement group based in the tech-focused Silicon Valley area of California, according to CBS News.
The search and seizure has sparked debate on whether the journalist shield laws should be applicable to this case, which would make the search illegal. However, other discussions have also begun as to whether Gizmodo’s purchase of the lost phone constitutes a purchase of stolen goods, which might mean criminal charges against the website.
Gawker Media, who owns Gizmodo, immediately fired back with accusations that the search did violate the shield laws and was a crime itself. Gaby Darbyshire, CEO of Gawker Media, wrote a letter to police that said Chen had shown officers a letter that said under state and federal law he should be protected from such a search and seizure, according to Yahoo News.
Wagstaffe said that if police delayed in performing the search, evidence might have been lost. He said that no charges have been filed yet, but the warrant used for the search did say that seized evidence may involve a felony.
“I think the people who are saying, ‘No, we should have waited’ and did it the other way first don’t understand that in the world when you’re investigating crimes, evidence sometimes gets deleted and destroyed,” Wagstaffe said. “If you sit there and work by the Marquess of Queensberry rules, then bad guys win.”
Items seized were three Apple laptops, a Seagate 500 GB external hard drive, USB flash drives, and an HP MediaSmart server.