Over the weekend, police seized computers belonging to Jason Chen, the Gizmodo/Gawker blogger who published details of Apple’s 4th generation iPhone on the Gizmodo site last week. Gawker COO Gaby Darbyshire argues in a letter to the police (which I decline to link to, as I disapprove of Gizmodo’s behavior in this matter) that the search warrant is invalid, citing section 1524(g) of the California Penal code and section 1070 of the California Evidence code, which relate to the seizure of equipment in order to identify journalists’ sources.
I’m no lawyer, but I wonder about Darbyshire interpretation of the law, here. Gizmodo didn’t just get documents or information from a source, it bought the actual prototype. That would seem to me to be a separate thing from the reporting. Even if the police were prohibited from confiscating equipment to target the person who gave Gizmodo the phone, are they also prevented from seizing it not to identify the source but simply to, say, charge Chen or others within Gawker Media for buying lost property? It seems a superior court judge doesn’t think so. Any lawyers want to weigh in?
Regardless of the answer, I have to say Gawker’s behavior during this entire affair has struck me as wildly incautious. Even setting aside their purchase of the device itself, their very public tale of how the device came into their possession would seem certain to be evidence in any trial should they be prosecuted for buying it. If their actions as they describe them were judged to constitute a crime, they have effectively implicated themselves.
UPDATE: this TechDirt post summarizes in a single sentence why, even if California law does protect Gawker here, I’m not convinced it should:
The shield law exists to protect unnamed sources, not to let journalists commit crimes (such as receiving stolen property) and then cover them up under the guise of their work.