Police are trying to determine if Gizmodo
violated California state law by buying an iPhone prototype from someone who said he found it in a bar, according to "a law enforcement official" quoted by CNET yesterday. The official also claims that Apple itself asked for the investigation, which, if true, would contradict persistent rumor that the somewhat unlikely story was just an Apple publicity stunt. An executive at Gizmodo's
parent company says that police have not asked them any questions yet.
Reportedly, Apple representatives contacted the Santa Clara County Police, and asked for an investigation of the events surrounding the disappearance of an iPhone prototype last month, and its subsequent appearance and teardown on Gizmodo
last week. CNET's Greg Sandoval and Declan McCullagh spoke to a police representative
, who says that the investigation may be conducted by a computer crime task force inside the Santa Clara County district attorney's office. While Apple's Cupertino headquarters is in Santa Clara County, the bar where the phone was allegedly lost and found is in Redwood City, the county seat of neighboring San Mateo County. According to California law, any person who finds lost property and "appropriates such property to his own use" is guilty of theft... or, If the value of the property is above $400, grand
theft, which is a felony.
The story has garnered a lot of comment since it was revealed on Monday. Gawker Media (the owners of Gizmodo
) paid $5,000 for the prototype, which sources have said is considered stolen goods by Apple. There are a number of elements about the story - such as, for example, why the finder claims he took the phone home with him rather than giving it to the manager of the bar - that have prompted questions about whether the phone was really found or stolen. Some observers looked at the holes in the story (a man walks into a bar with a priceless prototype and leaves it on a bar stool? really?) and wondered if the whole thing was an elaborate stunt by Apple to build up pre-release buzz for the next generation iPhone, but the police investigation suggests that they weren't involved. Gawker's chief operating officer says police haven't been in contact with him
about the phone.
The Santa Clara County computer crime task force, called the "Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team
" (REACT) was established in 1997 and pools the tech talents of a number of local jurisdictions. What's considered "Silicon Valley" lies mostly within the borders of Santa Clara County: the Santa Clara Valley -once the largest fruit producing and packing area on Earth - and the city of San Jose, and so the police have had to deal with a lot of high-profile intellectual property issues as well as thefts. Apple involved REACT in an investigation of one of its employees who sold over $100,000 worth of computers on eBay. REACT has more tech-savvy investigators than many local law enforcement agencies, commonly investigaring cybercrimes like denial-of-service attacks
of online businesses in Silicon Valley.