Police Raid Gizmodo Editor Over iPhone Leak

For most of us in the IT journalism business, Gizmodo's aquisition of a lost fourth-generation iPhone last week is the sort of lucky break we dream about. For the site, however, that dream-come-true could be turning into a nightmare. On April 25, editor Jason Chen arrived home to discover police in the process of executing a search warrant. Chen demanded to see the warrant, which authorized police to seize every computing or computer-related device in his home including keyboards, mice, floppy disks, and anything that could possibly have anything to do with a device manufactured after 1865.

When the details of the iPhone 4G went live online, it was immediately a question of when Apple would respond, not if. In the recent past, Apple forced the closure of the longtime Apple enthusiast website ThinkSecret over the websites' (accurate) claim that the Cupertino-based company would reveal iWork and the Mac Mini. In 2006, Apple fought to discover the identity of individuals who had leaked information to AppleInsider and PowerPage. That case, O'Grady v. Superior Court, was argued all the way up to the top of the California court system; the court eventually ruled that online journalists were entitled to protect their sources just as offline journalists protect theirs.

Gizmodo's lawyer, Gaby Darbyshire, has already sent a letter to the police claiming that the warrant was illegally obtained. Darbyshire's claim rests on a section of the California penal code specifically designed to protect journalists from attempts to seize their professional equipment. While the language of the shield law is clear and unambiguous, there's considerable question as to whether or not it applies to Chen's situation. Gizmodo bought the iPhone prototype for $5000, which makes them potentially liable for the theft of trade secrets. Under California law, Gizmodo had a responsibility to return the phone minus "a reasonable charge for saving and taking care of it."

It looks so innocuous

Even if Giz escapes felony charges, the shield law is designed to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources, not to protect them from an ongoing felony investigation. There's no argument that the site is attempting to protect its source, given that it published a dossier on the fellow just last week. Our guess is that words like "settlement" will soon be floating between the two companies, but Apple may not want to. Jobs is notorious for controlling information pre-launch; Gizmodo's exclusive stole the air from what was undoubtedly planned as a major launch event. It wouldn't surprise us in the slightest if Apple went for the throat on this one; a company willing to shut down its own enthusiast press over a Mac Mini is a company that might kill over the iPhone 4G.
Via:  Gizmodo
inspector 4 years ago

I actually saw this coming right after someone posted a comment about that law of stolen property. I thought gizmodo tried to return the device to them? or did i read that part wrong...

That journalists law sound interesting that i never knew before :D, does it apply to other professions like a graphics artist and such? Lets hope gizmodo gets the innocent in court :).

rapid1 4 years ago

I agree Inspector the way this was handled was not very smart. I agree with the generals on Journalism. This was pretty crazy though. The iPhone was stolen from someone for all intents and purposes. The person who stole it also had full access to finding the owner (his face book page was the browser home page. However; rather than do that he decided to try to make some money out of it.

Then he calls Gizmo and tells them he found it in a bar which sounds sketchy to me to begin with. Then brings it in, they pay him 5k for it, and he leaves. Gizmo could have notified Apple, Gizmo could have called the police initially. I don't like Apple, but I will defend them on a device in research. How are we going to get new stuff as fast as we do with things like this going on.

I am not trying to say I would take the moral high road here entirely. I would have looked it over broke it down seen what was there, and what I could do. I would have then put it back together, and called Apple and said some individual called us for an exclusive on said device, we knew from his description of where he got it it was stolen, so we paid him to retrieve it. We need to return this to it's rightful owners do you think maybe we could get an exclusive on it when or shortly before it's released and ready for consumption.

Behaving in that way they would have several things rights to an exclusive on an Apple device, most likely a good relationship with them in the future as well. They would have also had way more specific information on the device, it's capabilities, and the internal components. Not to mention future devices from them and having that positive relationship would have been very good for Gizmo.

I believe they handled it Ghetto completely. There is no respect in that and they are seen as a flash in the pan, even though Jason and Gizmo have actually been around for a while now.

3vi1 4 years ago

/agree they did handle it poorly. Especially when they subsequently released the name of the guy who lost it - potentially damaging his chances of finding employment in the future.

inspector 4 years ago

That is so true Rapid, they should of done what you have said and tried to bargain with apple :D. This way they have a chance at a legal exclusive from the source it self with all the real specs instead of guessing at stuff like that speaker on the top they think is for noise canceling and then they might even get a free iphone :D. If i had it i would of done so and give the exclusive deal to HH :P lol...

inspector 4 years ago

"like that speaker on the top they think is for noise canceling"

I meant mic :D lol

But anyways they wanted fame so now they can face criminal punishments. :(

bob_on_the_cob 4 years ago

Have to agree with you all. The whole thing was sleazy at best.

gibbersome 4 years ago

Apple is within their rights to pursue legal action against Gizmodo. That said, I love Gizmodo and along with HH, it's one of the sites I visit daily. I know they've played fast and loose with the law in the past, and the Editor obviously didn't think this through.

Anyway, this could end up being some bad PR for Apple. It's in the interest of both parties to resolve this quickly and quietly. Great publicity for Gizmodo though!

realneil 4 years ago

Why did Apple let this device out of a controlled environment?

If it's so bloody secret then maybe they should have seen to it that their employees weren't taking it out drinking at night. YA THINK?

Yes, the finder should have never sold it to Gizmodo, and yes, Gizmodo should have NEVER stated that they bought the damn thing either. (lunkheads)

But the finder DID try to return the device first, and was rebuffed by Apple when he did. After that, he shopped it around.

So, things that happened were a little on the shady side, but a massive Apple 'dumb-a*s*s attack started the ball rolling down the public relations slope that they're on today.

Also, I think that Gizmodo's revealing the name of the guy who lost the phone may have worked to his advantage. As of the last time I went to the site to read the latest, the guy still works for Apple. They may have turned his possible firing into a PR situation for Apple. Time will tell on this issue.

Super Dave 4 years ago

[quote user="realneil"]As of the last time I went to the site to read the latest, the guy still works for Apple[/quote]

I wonder what he does now.Big Smile

Joel H 4 years ago


Your first point is what Gizmo will argue if presented with a court case--namely, that Apple did not take "reasonable" precautions.

Your second point is almost certainly why they did it.

mentaldisorder 4 years ago

For the record if you're going to abbreviate the site it is called Giz, I'm pretty sure there is a different site that is abbreviated as Gizmo. I'm not really surprised by what took place here as I figured Giz would take this route had they ever come in contact with a device of this nature, and of course I always figured it would never happen. What's unfortunate about this is one, I like reading their articles, 2 they have a boat load of sister sites, so if they go down, I wouldn't be surprised if they all go down. Which is quite unfortunate seeing as how they do a decent job there and at Jalopnik with their articles and their humor.

To answer inspector's first question, that law does not extend to graphic artists. The point of the law is to protect journalists and that is all. The original reason it went to court was because there was no protection for online journalism.

mrbrownsound 4 years ago

This is nothing but bad PR for Apple. Didn't the person who found it and sold it to Gizmodo first try to contact apple, or did I just hear wrong?

Inspector 4 years ago

The guy tried to return it to apple but could not get to any higher staff members, they just gave him a ticket number to wait in line so I say it's apple's fault :) I thought giz tried to return it as well...

mentaldisorder 4 years ago

From what I understand, they did try and return it. Not sure why deadly force is required.

infinityzen 4 years ago

The guy who found it tried to return it three times. Giz tried to return it twice. All that happen in the two weeks the phone was out of Apple hands before the story went live. As soon as Apple requested the phone, it was returned to them.

Additionally, there is a hold on all the things that were taken in the police raid. The way things are looking, they will not be valid evidence.

Oh, and it wasn't the normal police who did the raid. It was REACT (Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team), a task force of police with several computer companies on its steering council. Anyone want to guess if Apple is or is not on that councial? *cough*yes*cough*

Even if Apple had nothing to do with the raid (which I believe is the case), a police task force with Apple on the steering councial of performing what is looking more and more like an illegal search and seizure is not good for their public image.

Joel H 4 years ago


By law, Gizmodo was required to turn the phone over to the police, who would have held it for 90 days. Only then would they have been legally able to reclaim it and remain clear of the trade secret law.

I'm not saying I think Giz has already lost the case by any means, but there are legal problems with their actions and defense.

gibbersome 4 years ago

Joel H,

So essentially what you're saying is that Gizmodo will be moving their headquarters to jail...


As far as I know, the Shield Law protects journalists from keeping their source anonymous; however, it does not protect them from engaging in criminal activity.

Now I've been hearing that the source initially attempted to return the phone to Apple, but for whatever reason it didn't happen. Until more details are released, we can only argue and speculate based on limited information.


This is how I see it went down:

1) You find a prototype AMD processor in a bar (presumably one that would destroy the i7-980X).

2) You call AMD's Customer service and they put you on hold.

3) The CS rep escalates the matter while they try to figure out if they're actually missing the prototype chip.

4) Before AMD gets back to you, you sell the chip to a member of a tech Blog (most likely Joel or someone equivalent at HH).

5) The person who buys it from you knows that it is lost and who it belongs to, but buys it anyway.

6) The FBI raids Joel's house at 3 in the morning, completely ruining his Starcraft II beta LAN party/orgy.

Inspector 4 years ago

HA :D i would love to join that starcraft 2 beta lan party :D...

Why didn't you mention Dave or Marco instead? xD

Anyways, so if Giz were to hand it over to the police, How would the police go in finding the original owner? (Say im a stupid and don't know *** about tech and erase the whole device(its bricked already right?) ) then on the other hand say i don't know the law and didn't know about the stolen property law and tried to return it and actually got it to them but they decide to be a jerk and press charges against me... would i be in trouble for that??? :D

gibbersome 4 years ago

Jon Stewart did a nice piece on the saga on his show. This is just bad PR for Apple.

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