As many questions as answers linger after the revelation of the police raid on Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's house
on Friday night. Questions like: are bloggers really journalists?
(I kind of hope so, personally), what did they want off Chen's hard drives?
and why didn't they arrest him?
The police took their time, having broken into Chen's house when he wasn't there, but he was told he could stay or go if he wanted to… though the inventory of the stuff they took includes "one box of business cards for suspect chen
." So are they after him, or the guy he bought the iPhone from?
The chief operating officer of Gawker Media, Gaby Darbyshire, asserts that California law protects journalists
from being served search warrants. Specifically, section 1524(g) of California’s penal code - the so called "shield law" - says basically that a reporter doesn't have to give evidence in a legal trial. And Darbyshire also made sure that she pointed out that the ruling of the California Appeals Court in the case of O'Grady vs. Superior Court
established that bloggers are
journalists. (Yay.) Supposedly, however, the law doesn't protect journalists from searches related to a crime
. And here's where the big question arises: was the whole "lost and found (and sold for five grand)" deal a crime
First Amendment expert Terry Francke says "nah." The executive director of Californians Aware
, a rights group that advocates for journalists, told SF Weekly tech blogger Joe Eskenazi
that the laws covering found property
are civil codes, not penal ones… so Gawker may only be exposed to a lawsuit from Apple. And that may be punishment enough, but if so, then the police had no right to raid Chen's house, and so they may be able to settle out of court with Apple.
There's just one wrinkle. If the "I found the phone in a bar" story was bogus, and Gawker knew it was bogus… in other words, if the phone was stolen
, rather than found, then it's a whole different ball game. Remember, Apple contacted the police to complain about a theft, and the warrant was issued for property "used as the means of committing a felony" and/or "tends to show that a felony has been committed or that a particular person has committed a felony." Felony theft is when the value of the stolen thing is over some amount… I've read $450 and $950, but both numbers are smaller than the $5,000 Gawker paid for the phone and probably way
smaller than what the phone was worth to Apple.
If there's evidence on any of the four computers, two servers, iPhone, or Kingston thumbdrive taken from Chen that the iPhone was stolen, then Chen's not the guy who really needs to be worried (though "suspect chen" may be charged as an accessory)… it's the guy who supposedly sat next to Gray Powell at that bar.
image via Dilbert