Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Was the Crime Here?

Apple Inc. is a very private company. They make you check in your cell phone when you report for work, so you won't take any pictures of things or leak any secrets about what incredibly successful product they will be releasing next. You are sworn to secrecy, there are security cameras watching the cubes.

So it was newsworthy when somebody left the next model of iPhone in a bar in Redwood City, California, a couple of weeks ago. Whoever found it ended up selling it to a ... gadget-blogger ... for $5,000. Jason Chen is a well-known writer on technology trends for a well-respected site called Gizmodo. Jason bought this futuristic iPhone, took it apart and took pictures of it, figured out how it works -- check it out HERE. After he wrote about it, Chen returned it to Apple.

There are so many angles to this you don't know where to start. Is is illegal or unethical to pay somebody for something that they found? Not on the face of it, no. Is it illegal or unethical to report on unreleased products that are in development? No, of course, that happens all the time. I'm sure Apple didn't like it, but ... you shouldn't leave your stuff laying around in bars if you don't want people to know about it.

This story has taken a surprising twist. Here's the San Francisco Chronicle:
Authorities seized computers, digital cameras, a cell phone and other items from a technology blog editor who posted pictures and details of a lost iPhone prototype.

A computer-crime task force made up of multiple law enforcement agencies searched Gizmodo editor and blogger Jason Chen's house and car in Fremont, Calif., on Friday, according to a statement and search warrant documents provided by Gizmodo.

The warrant, issued by a Superior Court judge in San Mateo County, said the computers and other devices may have been used to commit a felony. Steve Wagstaffe, spokesman for the San Mateo County District Attorney's office, confirmed the warrant's authenticity.

Members of the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team took several computers, hard drives, digital cameras, cell phones and other gadgets, plus Chen's American Express bill and copies of his checks.

Last week Gizmodo had one of the Web's hottest scoops when it posted photos of an Apple device that appeared to be a next-generation iPhone. It had been found in a bar in Redwood City, which is in San Mateo County, and sold for $5,000 by an unknown person to Gizmodo, a gadget blog owned by Gawker Media Inc.

After Chen, 29, posted photos and details about the phone, Apple acknowledged the device belonged to the company, and Gizmodo returned it.

Gawker Media said California law, which protects journalists from having to turn over anonymous sources or unpublished material to law enforcement during a search, should apply to Chen's property.

"Are bloggers journalists? I guess we'll find out," Nick Denton, who runs Gawker Media, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Wagstaffe said the district attorney's office is examining that issue.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling declined to comment. Police seize gear from Gizmodo iPhone blogger

It sounds like this was a major police raid. Does anybody have any idea what crime has been committed?


Anonymous Simon C. said...

You've got to be kidding me.

"Is is illegal or unethical to pay somebody for something that they found?"

Under ยง485 of the California penal code, "One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft."

Gizmodo purchased stolen property -- that's a felony.

"Is it illegal or unethical to report on unreleased products that are in development?"

It might be.

Whoever found the phone had a legal and ethical obligation to return it to its owner, not sell it for their own gain. Gizmodo has a legal and ethical obligation not to purchase stolen property to report on it for their own gain.

And for god's sake, shield law protects journalists whose sources may have committed crimes; it doesn't protect journalists who've themselves committed felonies.

Love your blog, Jim, and I love your reporting on LGBT and culture issues, but maybe you should stick to those arenas -- ones where you actually have the faintest idea what you're talking about.

April 27, 2010 10:43 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Pretty good, Simon, thanks for commenting. I don't know that this phone had been stolen, or that the editor committed a crime himself.

And this is funny, I really don't know anything about LGBT issues!


April 27, 2010 11:01 AM  

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