Cops raid Gizmodo editor home -- you don't mess with Steve Jobs

Gizmodo's big "next iPhone" scoop has generated more than pageviews. Now it's the police raid. Late this afternoon -- actually at stock market close -- the gadget blog posted about the police raid, which occurred Friday night at the residence of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen. Law enforcement executed a search warrant before confiscating -- count `em -- four PCs and two servers. Chen wasn't home. The police broke down a door to enter his home.

The timing (Friday night) and location (Chen's home) are oh-so revealing. Somebody wants to send a message to reporters about obtaining information and items that might belong to a big corporation -- say, Apple. While I've publicly scolded Gizmodo for scooping stolen goods (pun intended), the situation as recounted by the tech blog (and not yet corroborated) chills my soul. The action as described stinks of harassment, intended to scare off the free press.

Otherwise, why wasn't the search warrant issued during business hours at a Gizmodo office? The tech blog never said that Chen paid $5,000 for the iPhone prototype. Nick Denton, CEO of parent company Gawker, is on record stating the company paid for the device. If there is criminal negligence, shouldn't it be further up the corporate ladder than the editor first writing about Apple's smartphone?

It's true that Chen works from home, but surely Gawker has well-documented everything related to the iPhone prototype. Surely there is a clear e-mail trail on company servers -- then there are legal considerations. Surely Gawker's legal department vetted everything before allowing one word, photo or video to be posted about the iPhone prototype. Obviously, Chen's home is more vulnerable than a company's offices. Chen's home office is located in California, while Gawker offices are in New York. Apple is located in California, too.

There's a message here: You don't mess with Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Apple keeps its secrets until Jobs is ready to reveal them. The free press be damned. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Apple is on the steering committee supporting REACT -- Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team. The detective executing the warrant, Matthew Broad, is assigned to REACT.

Singling out Chen is harassment designed to scare off other reporters. I say that being strongly of the opinion that Gizmodo did in fact receive stolen goods under the California Penal Code. The tech blog likely violated California's Uniform Trade Secrets Act. But the harassment of an editor/reporter/blogger to discourage him or his peers from exercising free speech shouldn't be mingled with Gizmodo's culpability -- or not.

Then there are the direct assaults on free speech. Journalists in California are supposed to be protected from search and seizure. Gawker COO Gaby Darbyshire e-mailed the police detective responsible for the search and seizure, citing California Penal Code Seciton 1524(g): "No warrant shall issue for any item or items described in Section 1070 of the Evidence Code."

California Evidence Code Section 1070 reads:

(a) A publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service, or any person who has been so connected or employed, cannot be adjudged in contempt by a judicial, legislative, administrative body, or any other body having the power to issue subpoenas, for refusing to disclose, in any proceeding as defined in Section 901, the source of any information procured while so connected or employed for publication in a newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication, or for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public....

(c) As used in this section, "unpublished information" includes information not disseminated to the public by the person from whom disclosure is sought, whether or not related information has been disseminated and includes, but is not limited to, all notes, outtakes, photographs, tapes or other data of whatever sort not itself disseminated to the public through a medium of communication, whether or not published information based upon or related to such material has been disseminated.

But do these protections extend to Gizmodo? Denton's Twitter bio identifies him as a "gossip merchant," and Gizmodo is regarded as a tech blog. Do the same laws that protect journalists apply to bloggers? It's a question I hear often asked.

For certain, Chen's computers and servers are chock full of sources -- named and not. Should the police be able to raid a blogger's home (Chen is a Gizmodo editor, by title) and violate those sources' rights to privacy? Can the press truly be free, if the police have such free reign. I'm a journalist. I'm biased here. So I pose the question to you: Should the police have been allowed to raid Chen's home and confiscate his computers? Please respond in comments.

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