Cops Identify 4G iPhone Seller, Gizmodo Raid Defended by DA

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Here’s a quick update on the whole iPhone saga for your enjoyment. You’ll recall that over the weekend, a special task force raided Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home and took most, if not all, of his electronics equipment as evidence that “tends to show that a felony has been committed or that a particular person has committed a felony.”

While Chen, himself, wasn’t arrested, it wasn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to consider that police might be looking for the individual that supposedly took the next-generation iPhone prototype that had been accidentally left in a bar and sold it to Gizmodo for $5,000. It turns out that police have indeed identified and even interviewed that person, although they haven’t disclosed any details about his or her identity.

As for the legality of the search of Jason Chen’s home, Gawker is claiming that he should be protected under a California law that protects journalists from turning over evidence used in the creation of news stories, while prosecutors are taking the position that if they had waited too long, key evidence could have been destroyed. There’s also the issue of whether or not Gizmodo buying what they may have known to be stolen property is illegal in this case. If so, then the shield law wouldn’t apply to the journalistic angle.

Barbara Kiviat makes an interesting and important distinction over on as well. When it comes to journalistic shield laws, did Gizmodo’s posting of the iPhone’s details serve the public in a positive way?

Says Kiviat:

“The rationale for letting journalists have special legal protections when it comes to the dissemination of information is that what they are doing serves a greater social purpose. In other words, they are acting in the public interest…

…Let’s consider a few situations. I’m in a bar and come across a Philip Morris PowerPoint detailing a new marketing campaign to get 15-year-olds to start smoking. I’m pretty sure I’m acting in the public interest when I write about it. Another hypothetical: the government is investigating the possible ill effects of a new genetically modified corn seed from Syngenta. I happen to gain access to the technical details of that seed and publish them. Again, I’d argue that I’m putting information into the world that has true social value.”

While some of us personally derive value in the form of a short, quick release of whatever chemical in our brains is responsible for our insatiable cases of gadget lust, it can be pretty easily argued that the information presented in Gizmodo’s series of iPhone posts didn’t serve “a greater social purpose.” And it probably wouldn’t have been detrimental to any of us if we had to wait for Apple to officially announce the phone in June. The bigger issue, perhaps, will be whether or not the information leaked will end up hurting Apple in some way or another. The company may be able to make the case that the leak has given competitors an almost two-month head start on similar products.