Tuesday, April 27, 2010 0 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Apple-influenced police task force seizes popular blogger's assets

In what can only be deemed a draconian move—not surprising given Steve Jobs' history of strong arming everyone—a police force influenced by Apple has seized the assets of the editor at popular technology blog, Gizmodo. MarketWatch has the full details:

The chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, Stephen Wagstaffe, said Tuesday that computers and other gear taken from the Bay Area home of Jason Chen, an editor for the popular gadget blog Gizmodo, will not be examined until the office determines whether the material is covered by California "shield laws" that prevent law-enforcement authorities from examining material gathered by journalists.

On Monday, Gizmodo reported that Chen's house had been raided by the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team task force, which seized several computers and related gear. See full story on the raid on the blogger.

Earlier this month, Chen and his employer said they paid $5,000 for an apparent prototype of an iPhone that was found in a bar in Redwood City, Calif. The device allegedly was left by an Apple employee and was found by another patron, who sold it to Gizmodo. The blog ran a detailed story on the new device, which is widely believed to be the next version of the popular iPhone that Apple is expected to introduce sometime this summer.

The whole controversy is over a lost iPhone, apparently of a new, unreleased, product that Gizmodo paid $5000 to acquire. Apple apparently claims it was stolen, even though it was accidentally left behind in a bar by an Apple employee. The so-called REACT police force says Apple hasn't attended its meetings of late but has suggested Apple is on the steering committee.

It's not clear to me why Apple chose to pursue a criminal case rather than a civil case (Apple has no direct control of the case but given its influence over REACT, the force that broke into the blogger's home, it likely played a big role.) Even more bizarre is how Gizmodo returned the phone after Apple asked for it, albeit after publishing details about the phone.

In the past, Apple has gone after various bloggers for publishing leaked details and has generally won the cases. Often, the win isn't due to being legally right but rather, because it has more money to spend on lawyers. In this case, Gizmodo, run by Gawker Media, is a bigger player, often thought to be one of the largest and most profitable blog medias out there.

Steve Jobs has fought everyone and generally won most cases—his biggest loss is against Bill Gates in the 90's who would have crushed Apple if it weren't for anti-monopoly laws—but I have a feeling he is going to lose sooner or later. I admire him as a business leader—in fact, I named him the CEO of the decade—but he is too authoratarian for my tastes.

This unfolding case is likely to set precedents, at least in California. Gizmodo is attempting to defend itself against the police force (and indirectly against powerful corporations like Apple) using a journalist shield law that prohibits police from seizing journalists' tools. I don't know the details of this but it makes sense for a liberal society—you definitely don't want the police looking at a journalist's contact list. Ever since blogging took off, the question has always been whether a blogger can be considered a journalist. People like me, who would be called bloggers, aren't journalists since we don't do write enough original works; but the editor at Gizmodo is essentially a modern journalist (they make their living off writing articles and nearly all of it is original and high quality.) This court case, if it goes to trial, may decide whether bloggers can be considered as journalists, and hence afforded the same protections. There have been some cases testing this in the past but this Gizmodo case is stronger because Gizmodo is arguably the top technology blog and makes millions of dollars (i.e. is essentially a commercial enterprise on par with small newspapers.)

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