Apple reported iPhone 4G stolen, not lost

Tue, Apr 27, 2010

Legal, News

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.


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Leo Says:

    Perhaps you meant 18th APRIL 😉

  2. Jedive Says:

    “Was it on May 18th when an Apple engineer originally lost track of it”

    Pheeeeew! Back to the future!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Is only Gizmodo reporting it was left in a bar. Maybe it wasn’t left in a bar and it was actually stolen.
    Does Apple confirm that it was left in a bar by the account of their Apple employee that Gizmodo said left the device behind?
    How would Gizmodo know who left it behind?
    If Gizmodo knew who it was, why wouldn’t they contact the person directly?
    I am not sure i could consider a rumor blogger equal to a newspaper reporter or tv reporter as far as “freedom of the press”… after all anyone can start a blog.

  4. skips Says:

    Another interesting observation is that Apple might well have not had any proof that the device, which Gizmodo had in their possession, was in fact one of their prototypes and not merely a clever fake until after it had been returned to them. Once it had been returned, they could conclusively state that the phone was the missing prototype, then it would be reasonable for them to conclude, based on Gizmodo’s statements, that it had to have been “stolen” to have ended up in Gizmodo’s hands.

    I suspect that it would have been much harder for Apple to claim that it was stolen, if Gizmodo had refused to divulge how it came into their possession. Such a refusal would have been well within the intent of the “shield law” that is intended to protect journalists’ sources, which means some other information would have had to be used to establish the reasonable expectation that a crime had occurred. OTOH, Gizmodo’s claim that they had paid money for the device and received it from someone other than the original user/owner is tantamount to admitting that a crime had been committed (or so it appears based on the excerpts from the CA penal code that have been posted to the web in articles about this case). Until the non-owner received payment from Gizmodo, one could assume that they intended to return it but had not gotten around to carrying out that intention for other reasons. Once it was sold, they “profited” from their possession of the device without returning it to the owner, which is one of the clauses in the penal code that defines a crime.

  5. James Katt Says:


    The iPhone Prototype WAS STOLEN.
    The thief realized the phone was an iPhone Prototype.
    Then the thief profited from it by selling it to Gizmodo (Jason Chen)
    Gizmodo, realizing it was an iPhone Prototype and that it was owned by Apple, bought it for $5000.
    Gizmodo then took the iPhone apart, showing its components to the world in photos.
    Gizmodo profited from the story about the iPhone Prototype.
    Gizmodo made up the story that the iPhone Prototype was left in a bar, not pick-pocketed.

    So that is the rest of the story.

    Sounds like Grand Theft and/or Receiving Stolen Property to me.
    Guilty as charged!

  6. steve Says:

    Thanks, this is first time saw that it had been confirmed stolen

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