Gizmodo Police Raid May Determine If Bloggers Are Journalists

Filed as News on April 26, 2010 9:27 pm

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After receiving a “lost” iPhone 4G prototype and publishing details about it to the world, it looks as if the Silicon Valley police (of California) have raided the home of Jason Chen of Gizmodo fame, confiscating computers, servers and a few phones.

Last Friday night, California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team entered editor Jason Chen’s home without him present, seizing four computers and two servers. They did so using a warrant by Judge of Superior Court of San Mateo. According to Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media LLC, the search warrant to remove these computers was invalid under section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code (via Gizmodo)

Before the blogosphere (and twittersphere) freak out about whether the police have violated any rights (after all, bloggers are considered journalists–right?), the police probably seized the computers in order to find out who sold Gizmodo the iPhone 4G as apart of their investigation (so let us all calm down on how evil the boys in blue are–at least in the US).

iPhone 4G leakage aside, the raid does bring up a good question of whether bloggers are considered journalists in the US, and if so, whether they are protected by California law.

Update (4/27): It looks as if the California “shield law” may not apply in Gizmodo’s case, as police have identified the person who took the iPhone 4G prototype (via Mashable).

Investigators said they have identified and interviewed the person who took the phone from the Gourmet Haus Staudt on March 18 after it was left there by Apple engineer Gray Powell following a birthday celebration. (San Jose Business Journal)

While the police have yet to identify the person who “found” the iPhone 4G, it looks as if this may have been a criminal case where theft may have been involved.

The police have not yet charged anyone for stealing the iPhone prototype, although Gizmodo’s purchase of the iPhone has raised questions on whether it’s ethical to purchase leaks from sources, even if those leaks were stolen.

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  1. By R.S. Ogden posted on April 27, 2010 at 8:13 pm
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    This has nothing to do with journalist’s rights or legal search warrants. The action taken by the police/state in this issues is totally with out any legal foundation and a clear indicator of how corporations have more legal rights than individual citizens. “Hello officer, I left my cell phone in a bar and i think i found the person online who sold my phone. Will you please begin a criminal investigation issue and issue a search warrant on the persons involved, so i can get my cell back.

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  2. By Hal (GT) posted on April 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm
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    I kind of thought we would see this sooner than we did actually. I am curious as I read that the whole raid may be thrown out as the police might have violated the warrant according to another blogger.

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  3. By Darnell Clayton posted on April 27, 2010 at 9:49 pm
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    @RS: If the iPhone was stolen, then you are right, although apparently there are some protections for journalists/bloggers in CA regarding this (yes, its legally confusing, and no I’m not a lawyer).

    @Hal: That is what I’m wondering too. I guess for now Gizmodo is the most famous blog on the planet. We’ll see if that helps Chen get his computers, servers and phones back.

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  4. By R.S. Ogden posted on April 27, 2010 at 10:26 pm
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    if this item was stolen then yes there is a legal foundation for the search warrant and possible criminal charges but the media has reported this item was lost in a bar and someone picked it up and sold it. That is just not a criminal or even civil infraction in the eyes of the law. No one is required under the law to return items that are discarded in the public domain.

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  5. By ThinkingBrian posted on April 27, 2010 at 11:46 pm
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    I still don’t get this story, I thought that Apple got there iPhone prototype back? And where is the whole story? I would love to comment, but until I know everything including why the bloggers home was searched…

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  6. By Darnell Clayton posted on April 28, 2010 at 1:17 am
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    I just updated the story. It looks like this may turn into a criminal investigation, although I am not sure since everyone was probably intoxicated at the scene of the crime (and many judges hold eye witness testimonies of those under the influence with little regard).

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  7. By Maguire posted on April 30, 2010 at 1:33 am
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    It certainly sounds like a violation of rights. I am not convinced that law enforcement has a leg to stand on in this case, even with a stolen iPhone in the mix.
    It will be quite wonderful however, if CA does actually admit that bloggers are journalists.

    There is an interview series of social media experts discussing a wide range of current social media trends and practices, that you might find very interesting.
    http://www.ourblook.com/topic/social_media.html

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  8. By Thorn posted on May 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm
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    If i was that guy I’d be so pissed. I know he bought it and its all very smoke and daggers but still. For police to be involved its alittle too serious.

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  9. By Justin posted on June 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm
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    R.S. Ogden: I am an attorney, and you are dead wrong. Specifically, see California’s Civil Code sections 2080-2082, which state that anyone who finds and takes possession of someone else’s property must return it to the owner or, if the owner is not known, turn it in to police. “Public domain” is a concept under copyright law and has nothing to do with tangible property.

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