So, it turns out that Apple isn't thrilled about media companies buying its secret prototypes. The police have got involved in the saga of the 'iPhone 4G' controversially obtained by gadget news site Gizmodo, raiding an editor's home and seizing tech gear.
California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team reportedly entered Gizmodo senior editor Jason Chen's residence with a warrant, seizing four computers, two servers, and a number of other incidentals (including flash drives, cameras and mobile phones).
Gizmodo posted everything to its website - including a copy of the warrant, an inventory of the seized items, Gizmodo's legal response to the police and Chen's account of the events - presumably to bring the internet over to its side. But online reaction has been decidedly mixed.
The legal defence
Part of Gizmodo's legal response to the police quotes section 1524 (g) of the California Penal Code, which states: "No warrant shall issue for any item or items described Section 1070 of the Evidence code."
"(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or employed for publication in a newspaper, magazine or other periodical publication, or for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public.
(b) Nor can a radio or television news reporter or other person connected with or employed by a radio or television station, or any person who has been so connected or employed, be so adjudged in contempt for refusing to disclose the source of any information procured while so connected or employed for news or news commentary purposes on radio or television, or for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public.
(c) As used in this section, "unpublished information" includes information not disseminated to the public by the person from whom disclosure is sought, whether or not related information has been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."
Citizen Media Law Project comments on the legal side of things (with notes about what constitutes stolen property, whether it is a crime to receive said property, and whether or not bloggers are protected under journalism shield laws).
Playing the integrity card
But if Gizmodo is looking to play the integrity card (complete with arguments that "It's the public's right to know" and "The press is the watchdog of big corporations such as Apple"), the company may have ruined its argument with its actions.
The web appears to be unsympathetic toward Chen and Gizmodo, not only because of the sketchy legality surrounding their acquisition of the iPhone prototype, but because of how Gizmodo outed the engineer who lost the prototype. A commenter over at Digg, OneManArmy, says, "They had it coming. After publicly humiliating that Apple engineer that lost the phone, posting his name and facebook photo for millions to see, I have no sympathy for them."
Gizmodo disabled comments over at its post on the search and seizure of Chen's residence, but the related Digg post had about 800 comments as of Monday night. Digg users seem to think that, at best, Gizmodo should have seen this coming.
Digg commenter hitman619 says, in response to California Evidence Code Section 1070, "This is a great link. Very wordy but everyone here needs to read this before passing judgement on Chen. This is California. We have state laws, and there is that whole freedom of the press thing granted by the constitution."
Of course, many commenters don't think that Section 1070 really applies to Chen and Gizmodo - commenter ARTLUKM states, "The property wasn't seized as a result of any work of journalism. It was seized due to corporate espionage and acquisition of stolen property," while commenter elpayo says, "Gawker's COO is attempting to make the case that seizing Chen's computers was in violation of the penal code because he's a journalist protecting a source. But the cops seized the computers because Chen received stolen property. If Gawker hadn't paid $5000 for the prototype, they might have a case. But they did, so they don't."
Over at CNN, the tone is a bit different - commenters appear to be more interested in discussing whether or not Apple has gone too far - or if Apple is even to blame for the police's 'Gestapo' tactics.
CNN commenter Hugh Jole notes: "Apple shouldn't be bashed or trash-talked here. If anyone spent millions developing a product and then had it displayed and dissected on an international stage for everyone and their mothers to see before they had a chance to make back any of those dollars, they would be ripping mad too and want the person who did it to be brought to justice."
Another commenter at CNN, Dorkus Maximus, suggests that perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to believe Gizmodo's side over Apple's: "A lot of people here already seem to believe the Gizmodo story – the phone lost at a bar, the finder trying to return it to a disbelieving company. But that's Gizmodo's story. The police apparently found evidence to suggest that story doesn't wash. Judges don't give out warrants without probable cause. Gizmodo is trying to hide behind the cause of journalism, but let the facts speak for themselves."
It seems that nobody's really sure who's at fault - Apple, Gizmodo, Chen, the police, the guy who sold the iPhone, the guy who lost the iPhone, Nick Denton, the drunk guy who pointed out the lost iPhone - and the web's reaction shows this.