Apple iPhone 4G, Gizmodo Saga Continues with Police Raid

Apple's iPhone 4G prototype, supposedly lost in a California bar and then dissected by tech blog Gizmodo, is now the focus of a criminal investigation. On April 23, California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) raided Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home with a warrant to search for any computers or other equipment containing data about Apple's prototype device. Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, argues that Chen's seized computers are protected from seizure because they contain information about journalistic sources.

The saga of lost Apple device alleged to be an iPhone prototype, and tech blog Gizmodo's much-read dissection of said device, extended into another week after police raided Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's California home and removed several computers.

Gizmodo's parent company, Gawker Media, supposedly paid an unnamed source $5,000 for the device, allegedly misplaced in a German beer garden north of San Jose by an Apple software engineer celebrating his birthday. Widely termed the "iPhone 4G" by the media, the device includes a front-facing camera for video chat, high-resolution display, and a secondary mic for noise cancellation. After its April 19 breakdown of the device, Gizmodo returned the device to Apple in response to a legal request.

Stephen Wagstaffe, a spokesperson for the San Mateo County District Attorney's office, told Reuters that Apple had reported the device stolen: "The allegation was that there was a reasonable cause that a felony theft had occurred... This was the beginning of the investigation."

The warrant, issued by the Superior Court of San Mateo on April 23, authorized police to search Jason Chen's home and vehicles for digital property associated with the Apple prototype iPhone 4G, including any research on Apple software engineer Gray Powell, who supposedly lost the device. The warrant's description of the aforementioned property includes "computer systems, digital storage devices, computer hardware (including peripherals and cables), and data," all of which were seized during the actual raid that night. Officers executing the warrant were from REACT, the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, whose 25-company steering committee supposedly includes Apple.

"My wife and I drove to dinner and got back at about 9:45PM," Chen wrote in an April 26 statement posted on Gizmodo. "When I got home I noticed the garage door was half-open, and when I tried to open it, officers came out and said they had a warrant to search my house and any vehicles on the property -in my control.'"

According to his own account, Chen was allowed to see the warrant, but had to wait outside his home while the police loaded his computers into a truck. "The detective in charge gave me his card and told me to call him in case I had any questions, and I should file a reimbursement claim for the door," Chen wrote. "He also said, after I said I had no comment...something about this possibly being a misunderstanding that could be cleared up if I answered some questions."

In a letter sent to Detective Matthew Broad of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office after the raid, Gawker Media's chief operating officer Gaby Darbyshire stated that four computers and two servers had been confiscated. Darbyshire also argued that the search warrant was invalid, on the grounds that Chen's computers contained data about sources and were thus protected from seizure under Section 1070 of the Evidence Code, and wants Chen's property returned.

But the warrant suggests that property will be "examined by a forensic computer examiner and that the examination be conducted at an offsite facility due to the need for special equipment to properly conduct the examination and preserve the evidence."

At least one person, though, is seeing the humor in this situation:

"Welcome to the jungle, Gawker guys," Fake Steve Jobs, the alter ego of journalist Dan Lyons, wrote in an April 26 posting on his eponymous blog. "You merry pranksters got crazy with the wrong dude when you tangled with me."