Police Raid Gizmodo Editor’s House Over iPhone Leak

by Christopher Harbin

For those who haven’t kept up, here’s a recap of this story:

1. Apple engineer loses his iPhone in a bar.

For ironic effect, Apple forced the police to use this hammer to break down Gizmodo's editor Jason Chen's door.

2.  Some dude picks it up and contacts technology blog Gizmodo.

3.  Gizmodo buys it off some dude and runs a story.

4.  Gizmodo editor’s house gets raided by the fuzz.

And here’s a preemptive strike at people who say “but he’s possibly trafficking in stolen property.” Fuck you.  I hope you die in a fire.  It’s a friggin’ iPhone.  If Apple can’t manage its trade secrets correctly, fuck em’.

Seriously, it’s a fucking iphone that was lost in a bar — is this really worth raiding a journalist’s home over?   Isn’t there a better PR way of handling this rather than breaking down somebody’s door?

But the real question is — will Marc still keep his love of Macs after Apple becomes the Fourth Reich?

28 Responses to Police Raid Gizmodo Editor’s House Over iPhone Leak

  1. yoshi says:

    Is it really Apple or some crazed district attorney? Personally I am having a hard time caring. Apple’s intense secrecy was bound to bite them in the ass. But I have no sympathy for Chen – he is an amateur, arrogant ass who puts out trash and really isn’t knowledgeable about the subjects he writes about (especially business and IT) – so something like this was bound to happen sooner.

    • Christopher Harbin says:

      They wouldn’t be raiding Chen’s house if it my laptop, duder. And Chen is a dick — I agree. But this has broader implications for reporter’s privilege.

  2. J DeVoy says:

    Isn’t there a better PR way of handling this rather than breaking down somebody’s door?

    Depending on the message Apple wants to send, no. It is better to be feared than loved, amirite?

    • Christopher Harbin says:

      I wish we could have images in the comments. An “OBEY” image would go perfectly.

  3. Justin T. says:

    Apple should’ve remedied this situation by suing Gizmodo out the ass, rather than have some DA’s office do their dirty work. I love my Macbook but I am becoming more and more dissatisfied with Apple every day.

  4. Joe says:

    Has anyone considered that the Apple employee who left the phone in the bar might have had some sort of set up?

  5. Sean F. says:

    You can hate Apple as a company but still like their products. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    Anyway, yeah. I disagree with Apple’s shenanigans.

    • Justin T. says:

      I agree, but at what point does liking & buying their products become a tacit endorsement of their corporate shenanigans?

      Then again, everything I’ve ever gotten from Microsoft in the last ten years has been a complete turd sandwich, so I’ll probably be hypocritical and stick with Apple even though I think their company is pretty shady.

      • Sean F. says:

        “But the real question is — will Marc still keep his love of Macs after Apple becomes the Fourth Reich?”

        Was responding to this.

    • Agreed… Apple products = 180. Apple corporation = horseshit.

    • Harry Mauron says:

      You can hate white slavery as an institution and still like the cheap and accessible underage girls it provides. The two are not mutually exclusive. Are they?

      • Sean F. says:

        The product and institution are one and the same in that case. So no, you can’t hate one and like the other.

        However, you can disagree with a musician personally, but like their music.

        • Harry Mauron says:

          A musician is an actual person with morals and other roles. Apple is an amoral corporation that exists solely to serve the avarice of its shareholders by selling products. If you buy the products (at least at retail), you support the company.

          And sorry if the example went too far – substitute “Chinese” for “white”, and “waitresses” for “underage girls”

          • Sean F. says:

            You’re completely missing the point.

            1st, Liking does not necessarily equal buying.

            2nd, a good product is a good product no matter who made it. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a product is good. Even if you hate the people that made it.

            Also, your example is still wrong. I can’t hate THE CHINESE and like CHINESE waitresses. “Chinese” is the operative word. How extreme the example is doesn’t matter.
            I hate the Third Reich, but I like the Autobahn.
            I hate Fox but I like Futurama.
            I hate Activision but I like…

            well I just hate Activision, but you get the point, yes?

      • Err… ummm….. gross.

  6. Here’s something I would like to know… if they returned the phone already, what the fuck were the cops looking for?

    • Andrew says:

      I assume that they were looking for evidence that Chen knew the phone was acquired illegally. If he didn’t know where it came from, he could try to claim he thought he was buying an apple prototype the seller legally owned (somehow). But if communications from the seller indicate he acquired it in an illegal manner, and Chen still bought it, then it will assist in prosecuting him. As an aside, the default response to finding something left in a bar would be to give it to the bartender, so it’s there when the owner returns for it – not sell it online.

    • Victor says:

      First of all, I am surprised that on a site frequented by the legally inclined, so many people are attributing this raid to Apple while it is up to the DA, not Apple to initiate such a raid. That’s not to say that Apple had absolutely nothing to do with it, but it is not their decision to make so condemning them for it is a bit off base.

      Next, the Gizmodo editor clearly paid a lot of money ($5,000) for property that belonged to Apple and he knew it was Apple’s when he bought it. This is hardly an innocent act.

      If I “found” someone’s wallet in a bar and it had something in it other people wanted to see (such as a nude picture of the owner’s significant other) and instead of just turning it into the bartender or the police, I took it, opened it, then sold the wallet to someone else for a LOT of money so they could profit from displaying its contents online, I deserve to be treated like a criminal because that’s exactly what I am. As does the person who purchased the stolen wallet.

      I say stolen because that is exactly what an object which has been taken and not returned to its rightful owner is. The name of the Apple engineer who was the carrier of the phone was known at the time the “loss” took place as was the company who was the phone’s rightful owner so any argument that the “finder” couldn’t get it back to its owner is total bullshit.

      • Christopher Harbin says:

        Let’s not be so naive. If this was John Doe’s Nokia phone — and Doe got the phone back — the cops wouldn’t be rolling out their rapid computer response team (which by the way apple sits on the steering committee for) and busting down anyone’s door. The real issue is whether the Federal Privacy Protection Act or California’s journalist shield law applies. Reviews are mixed.

        Wired says yes: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/04/iphone-raid/

        Professor Lidsky of UFLAW has a different take: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2010/04/search-of-gizmodo-journalists-newsroombedroom.html#more

        • Victor says:

          If it was John Doe’s Nokia phone, it wouldn’t be on the headlines of major papers in the country and it wouldn’t have sold for $5000 to some blog which probably profited far more than that by its revealing. It would not be a prototype of an unreleased product which is of extremely high value to Apple’s competitors so your argument that this ought be treated like any random person’s phone has little weight. It is clearly not any random person’s phone and so yes, a higher standard is applying here due to the publicity. That does not necessarily point the finger at Apple initiating, they could be under pressure from the media to do something.

          Anyway, I see nothing naive in my statement, it is still up to the DA to initiate such a raid. They may not have initiated one on John Doe’s random phone, but this is quite a different beast.

          Furthermore, the journalist shield may apply here, but it is doubtful. That law is created to help journalists protect their sources, not to allow journalists to commit crimes and have no repercussions.

          • Christopher Harbin says:

            I’m not arguing this phone should be treated the same as a Sally’s phone that she lost at the carnival. I’m saying that it’s ridiculous to just call this a stolen phone case and proceed on those lines.

            You agree with me that this isn’t really about the phone but rather the trade secrets. And once you are in trade secret land, a whole new set of rules are in play.

            Just to make sure we’re on the same page, let me toss this hypo at you. Let’s say the dude turns the phone into the bar and immediately calls Gizmodo and tells them the phone is at the bar. Gizmodo calls the bar, offers them 5k to go look at it in the bar lost and found, take pictures, run through the new OS, etc. The bar owner tells Apple they have the phone and that they can pick it up.

            During the time it takes Apple to whisk its security team to the bar, Chen arrives and documents everything he wanted to.

            Do you think this case comes out differently? If you think Gizmodo should not be able to disclose the information about the phone in the above hypo, then you concede we’re talking about the trade secrets. If you think Chen’s disclosure would be fine, your point about the value of the phone is meaningless. Either way, we’re not talking about merely a stolen phone, right?

            Once we’re in trade secret land, you have to start balancing the public interest in newsworthy reporting against the interest of the holder of the trade secret in both the subpoena of sources and evidence as well as the ultimate issue of misappropriation liability. See O’Grady v. Superior Court, 139 Cal.App.4th 1423 (2006).

            Apple and the DA are leaning on the stolen property angle as an end around the trade secret balancing. The DA wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about trade secret misappropriate unless Apple was putting pressure on them. Given Apple’s super secretive culture and combined with their prior history of litigating the ever living shit out of trade secret disclosures, you are naive to think Apple isn’t putting pressure on the 5-0. Apple has been down this road many times — in fact, the O’Grady decision involved Apple’s trade secrets.

            I don’t have any views on Chen’s liability for stolen property trafficking or misappropriation. Like a good law student, I can see it both ways.

            Because this is really about trade secrets and not about a stolen phone, I think everyone involved should play by the rules set forth by that domain. And that means balancing at liability stage and safeguards during seizure.

            • Victor says:

              I was not trying to move us into trade secret law by bringing up the particulars of the unreleased prototype, I was simply pointing out the difference between John Doe’s Nokia phone and this phone that is very high profile for many reasons. The fact that it is an unreleased prototype, particularly from an intensely secretive company puts it more into the public limelight than even a prototype phone from any other company. And being in the public eye nearly always pushes DAs into action, often on cases they would ignore but for the publicity.

              As I stated in my first response here, I do not argue that Apple had nothing to do with the raid, but it sounds as though many of the commenters believe Apple solely initiated the raid when the fact is that they did not and can not. We can all opine about hidden political pressure, but the bottom line is that it was the DA, not Apple that decided to initiate this raid.

              As for your hypo, you completely changed the fact pattern. If Gizmodo paid off the bartender to snap pics of the phone, then there is no theft involved. Still questionably shady journalism, but no actual theft. But person taking the phone out of the bar, knowing the identity of its owner, not returning it, and selling it is a very different beast.

              The way I reconcile your hypo with what actually occurred, that is almost like saying: Imagine you walk into a book store and read a book. You have committed no crime. True. But the moment you take the book from the book store without purchasing it and sell it to someone else, you have committed a crime, and further if the buyer knows it is probably stolen and posts videos of the stolen book online and says, “look at this, it is the property of the bookstore!”, then not only has a crime been committed, but the probable cause for such a raid has been established due to the transaction involving a lot of money and some stolen goods.

              Now, of course, I sound as though I am presuming guilt here and that is not my intent, it is just my bias creeping out, but it certainly sounds as though there is enough probable cause in transactions involving stolen goods. And that is all the DA needs in order to start their investigation as they have.

  7. splifton says:

    I have mixed feelings about Apple. My Macbook gives a level of convenience, usability, and general compatibility that I’ve found sorely lacking in many laptop PC’s. However my Nexus One reminds me that the open source Android system allows customization that defies the safe and familiar constructs of Apple’s Intellectual Property.

    At the end of the day Gizmodo is a widely viewed website that stepped over the line from real journalism to the more nebulous TMZ’esq “reporting”.

    Gizmodo (and their attorneys) should have known better than to purchase black market trade secrets from a sketchy third party. Are they criminally liable? Probably not. Jason Chen absolutely knew full well the potential damages “reporting” these highly secret specification would do to limit Apple’s ability to bring its product to market.

  8. Another pundit says:

    Y’all just crazy.
    If I traffic in stolen goods, yeah the fuzz may raid my house.
    What’s the big deal? Is it somehow horrible because the stolen goods had an Apple logo?

    Seriously, step back and re-evaluate your position here, ’cause it seems kinda groundless.

    • MikeZ says:

      I kinda have to agree here, While it seems slightly different than somebody selling stereo equipment out of the back of a van, stealing corporate secrets seems like something that could get you raided easy.

      That said, I have no idea why anyone would want to go with the closed source single manufacturer iPhone, vs the an android model. Sure its all apple shiny, but I seem to remember learning that lesson back in the 80s.

  9. Halcyon 1L says:

    It’s bad because the police broke the law, a law designed to protect freedom of the press.

    Gawker had returned the mislaid/lost good back. There was no trespassory taking required for theft–no one stole anything. You make an overbroad statement that isn’t true.

  10. […] all those that doubted me when I proclaimed that Apple had a whole lot to do with the fuzz busting down a Gizmodo editor’s door, I humbly submit to you  this link and the double […]

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