With all the arm chair lawyers getting out of their seats and discussing the merits of the seizure of items from Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home, it might be a good time to throw a fact into the equation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the police investigation and subsequent warrant for Chen’s home was prompted by Apple notifying the authorities that the iPhone 4G prototype was in fact stolen and not lost.
It remains unclear, however, if Apple considered the iPhone stolen when it was originally left at the bar, or if they view the theft occurring when Gizmodo actually purchased the device.
Even before it was abundantly clear that the iPhone prototype in Gizmodo’s possession was 100% authentic, Apple watcher John Gruber, citing sources inside Apple, wrote that Apple considered the phone stolen. What we still don’t know is the timing of everything – specifically, when exactly did Apple report the alleged theft? Was it on March 18th when an Apple engineer originally lost track of it, or was it last week when Gizmodo paraded images and video of the device all over their website? Update: It was last week.
On a related note, there’s been a lot of back and forth about the legality of the warrant on Chen’s home, with many arguing that journalistic shield laws make the issuance of the warrant invalid. Shield laws, for the billionth time, are about protecting sources of information, they aren’t a get out of jail free card for journalists who commit crimes. The police here aren’t up Gizmodo’s ass for their iPhone 4G expose, but rather because they may have knowingly purchased stolen property. First amendment expert and noted blogger Eugene Volokh observes, “If what they’re looking for is itself evidence of a crime, then I think they’re entitled to do that.”
In a nutshell. Publishing iPhone 4G details = protected free speech. Purchasing iPhone 4G = potentially illegal, and it’s that issue, and that issue alone, that police are investigating.