The question of whether or not Gawker Media’s $5,000 purchase of a misplaced next-generation iPhone would result in legal backlash has been answered by a recent police raid on Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s California home.
The search warrant cited probable cause to search for property that “was used as the means of committing a felony” and “tends to show that a felony has been committed or that a particular person has committed a felony.”
Several items were removed from Chen’s home ranging from business cards to cameras to multiple computers and even a current generation iPhone. Gawker’s lawyers have asked for the prompt return of all items, citing a section of the California penal code stating that journalists are to be protected from “refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public.”
The letter from Gawker also points out that the search was not to be conducted at night, yet Chen returned home at 9:45 to find police already in his home. According to Chen, police broke open his front door but didn’t appear to damage anything else. They told him that repairs to the door would be reimbursed and that he wasn’t under arrest.
It seems likely to me that police are looking for information about the person who took the phone from the bar and sold it to Gizmodo. It’s doubtful that Gizmodo, Gawker, or Chen would have volunteered that information to police. Still, the home search was probably a bit unsettling for Chen and his wife.
Chen is a full time employee of Gawker Media and, as such, has Gawker’s legal team to help him out. Plenty of other online journalists, bloggers, or whatever you want to call us work as self-employed contractors, though, which would make a situation like this pretty nauseating. That, and you can’t get much contract work done when all your electronics gear has been removed from your house while you’re out to dinner one night.
I’m no legal expert, obviously. Anyone out there with the appropriate credentials care to weigh in on this situation? All the documentation can be found here on Gizmodo’s site.