Court Begins Searching Gizmodo Computers in iPhone Theft Investigation

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Computers police confiscated from Gizmodo editor Jason Chen are finally going under the microscope as part of a criminal investigation into how the technology blog got ahold of a prototype iPhone. Gizmodo purchased the iPhone from Brian Hogan who claimed he found the prototype in a California bar.

The search of Mr. Chen’s computers will be conducted by a court appointed special master who will gather only information that relates to the investigation, according to CNET. Once the search is completed, the collected evidence will be turned over to the judge overseeing the case and then shown to the defense for potential objections.

After attorneys for Mr. Chen review the evidence, the judge will decide what the prosecution can see.

Police confiscated several computers, along with hard drives, an iPad and iPhone, from Mr. Chen’s home in late April as part of an investigation the theft of Apple’s iPhone prototype. Authorities held off on searching the gear for evidence until now while the debate as to whether or not journalists are protected from search warrants in relation to criminal investigations was hashed out.

The iPhone prototype was allegedly found in a bar and then later sold to Gizmodo. The site eventually posted photos and video of the device proclaiming it the next generation iPhone. Apple’s legal department contacted Gizmodo demanding the return of the device.

The special master’s investigation may take a few months, after which the judge overseeing the case will review the findings. No one has been charged with a crime related to the investigation so far.

Comments

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

“allegedly found”—> The first time I’ve ever seen potentially exonerating evidence in a criminal investigation tagged with an “allegedly”.

ibuck

How they can hang on to Chen’s property without filing any charges—if that is indeed the case? Doesn’t the 5th Amendment restrict the taking of private property without due process?

Steve W

Due process := obtain search warrant.

Intruder

Bosco,

Then you haven’t been paying attention. Everything is “allegedly” until proven otherwise in court.

@ ibuck:
Don’t think so. It is being held in evidence for a case that is being built by the district attorney, if I’m not mistaken. There is a set period of time within which they have to do that in a felony case, but that is measured in years I believe.

noworryz

It’s worse than that. According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s legal analysis, the California Penal Code specifically prohibits this kind of search of journalists. However, Apple is on REACT’s Steering Committee and may have received special treatment; REACT didn’t disclose that Chen was a full-time journalist when they wrote the affidavit for the search. See the EFF’s opinion here.

After the fact, the police didn’t want the affidavit released but a group of media companies sued for its unsealing. It’s a great read: Wired published it here, in PDF form.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@Intruder: Whoah dude. You must be writing from the United States of Apple, because in the United States of America, you are not required to prove your innocence in court. The prosecution is required to prove your guilt—beyond reasonable doubt. Crimes are “alleged”, not exculpatory evidence.

Intruder

Bosco, look up the definition of “alleged”.

It has not been proven that the phone was left at a bar. It also hasn’t been proven that it was stolen. The person who offered it to Gizmodo alleged that the phone was left at a bar.

You should really give the snarky attitude a rest. It is getting really old.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Oh ferchissakes. When have you ever seen a story about a crime where “alleged” was applied to anything except the supposed criminal acts? Reporters typically use the term so as not to defame a defendant who has yet to be convicted. The term is used to cast deniable doubt on the claim that follows. Why is there a need to cast deniable doubt on whether the phone was “found”? Who is defamed if the phone was not actually “found”, but forcibly “taken”? The statement of Gray Powell in the affidavit casts doubt on it being taken from his bag.

Take a civics class. Learn who has to prove what in our courts. TYVM.

Lee Dronick

According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation?s legal analysis

Not that they have an ax to grind.

“the California Penal Code specifically prohibits this kind of search of journalists”

That probably does not apply to this case otherwise the phalanx of defense lawyers would have stopped the investigation and had the confiscated items returned. Anyway, if the search of Chen’s computers turns up nothing then he has no worries.

ibuck

Sir Harry Flashman said: if the search of Chen?s computers turns up nothing then he has no worries.

No computer, phone or iPad = no worries? Many would gloss over this issue because they have already judged Chen/Gizmodo guilty. But what if it happened to you? What if you relied on it for your small business? I know someone who was falsely accused of molesting a child and police seized his computer for months. He only finally had it returned when the child admitted her Dad put her up to it; he wanted to get back at his ex-spouse.

Steve W said: due process := obtain search warrant.

The Constitution guarantees us a speedy trial, without defining “speedy.” Courts are notorious for keeping such evidence for a year or longer, even when the owner or victim is not suspected of a crime. Evasion of the law by those sworn to uphold it is reprehensible, yet it’s permitted by District Attorneys,  Judges and the Police. Something to think about when elections come around. Finish the investigation, file charges, or return the equipment.

Lee Dronick

No computer, phone or iPad = no worries?

I think that is the least of his worries.

b9bot

Writer or not, he admitted to the world on the internet that he paid $5000.00 for a stolen iPhone from an Apple Employee. He knew it was stolen. I don’t think journalists can break the law and commit felonies and still be protected. Apple knows all parties involved. It’s only a matter of time before someone goes down for this.

b9bot

iBuck, your analogy is all wrong and doesn’t make any sense. He bought stolen property, knowing it was stolen. Apple’s trade mark was printed on the back of the iPhone. Then he printed it on the internet for the whole world to know what he did.  If I found something that didn’t belong to me and knew who it might belong to like Apple I would take it there and give it to there security personal at least. They could of done that, but they didn’t. The guy who supposedly found the phone decided to call around and find the highest bidder. It couldn’t happen to just anyone if they just used there brain and tried to find the owner and not publish it on the internet for the world to know and see. Not to mention sell something that doesn’t belong to you.

ibuck

iBuck, your analogy is all wrong and doesn?t make any sense.

b9bot, does my post not make sense because your mind is made up and closed to reconsideration? Have you convicted Chen/Gizmodo despite hearing only part of the story, most of which is hearsay at this point and not established fact? We can speculate about what “should happen” based on what we have heard or read, but until there is sworn testimony from all involved and corroborated evidence, we are just guessing. (Even though I might agree that Chen APPEARS to be in deep yogurt, he is still innocent at this point.) So, even though this is a bit complex, let me try again.

The point I was trying to make is that our justice system deprives those accused of their property while SLOWLY grinding toward a trial. Sometimes it’s the VICTIMS who are deprived of their property (stolen and recovered, then held to be used as evidence against the perpetrator) while this happens. Computers and peripherals (including printers!) are often seized by police because they MIGHT HOLD EVIDENCE relevant to the purported crime.

Our Constitution gives us certain rights, and among these are the right to a SPEEDY TRIAL and the right to NOT BE DEPRIVED OF OUR PROPERTY without due process of law (and that’s the whole process, not just a search warrant). When police seize your means of livelihood and then the prosecution goes slowly, for whatever reason (so as not to bungle the case?, lack of computer savvy?), our rights are being trampled. Judges sometimes rule the prosecution must proceed NOW or release the evidence (or alleged perpetrator) because of these rights. Here are my two points…

1. Our justice system MOVES TOO SLOWLY in adhering to these rights. And we, as citizens, should pester them to enforce the laws they swore they would uphold, especially as it applies to them (police, DA’s/prosecutors, judges). What if charges are never filed in this case, but Chen’s property is held until after Apple announces, and begins to sell, their new iPhone?  Or if your computers and phones are seized when you are suspected/accused—perhaps falsely—and then no charges are filed, but you don’t get your property back for a year or more? This is a too common occurrence.
2. Prosecutors in the Chen case must FILE CHARGES NOW (or within a few days) or return the seized property immediately. Despite how we might feel about what Chen allegedly did.

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