There are more questions than answers being asked about the Gizmodo raid and as the days go on, more questions will likely be asked. I’ve done some research on the topic at hand and try to answer some – if not, all – of these questions. Keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer nor am I a media analysis, but I do consider myself a journalist as I have taken some courses at college, which some bloggers have not.
Why was this raid executed?
Under California law, which Gizmodo editor Jason Chen resides, California Penal code section 485 states that “One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.”
Translation: The law says that Jason Chen bought the phone from a person that did not attempt to return the phone to the original owner. Chen then went ahead and uses the phone as if it was his property (I.E. publish exclusive photos of and take apart the next iPhone). Under this law, Chen is guilty of theft and that is why a search warrant was executed on Chen’s house; looking for evidence to support the crime was committed.
Also consider this in question: Did Gizmodo violate trade secrets law? Gizmodo had a prototype of the next iPhone 4G and told the world what Apple was going to do next. Apple claims that revealing the protype to the world puts the company at harm as competitors know what Apple will do next and try to compete against the iPhone. Apple also claims that the story could hamper sales as people will wait until the phone is release this summer.
As I said in yesterday’s episode, Apple believes that Jason Chen bought stolen property. Even Gizmodo’s Editorial director Brian Lam said in a response to Apple’s letter that they “didn’t know this was stolen when we bought it.”
What are shield laws?
A shield law is legislation designed to protect journalists from revealing their sources to courts and offer protection from search warrants on employee’s workplace. 36 states, including the District of Columbia have shield laws in the books. A federal shield law is in the works but has stalled in the Senate. Depending on your state, new media outlets may or may not be included in these laws.
California does include bloggers in their shield laws.
Is Gizmodo’s iPhone 4G story protected from shield laws?
Shield laws are meant to protect journalists from revealing their sources but the shield laws do not protect journalists if you committed a crime. And that is why Gizmodo’s Jason Chen is under investigation.
As of now, the case has been suspended as the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office reviews the legal proceedings to verify if this story falls under the protections of California’s shield laws. But it is widely believed by many media analysits that the shield laws do not apply to the Gizmodo story; as they bought stolen property.
What’s next in this case?
Investigators will search through what was collected in the raid and San Mateo County District Attorney James P. Fox will decide to proceed with the case. What are they looking for? It’s Widely believe that they are looking for the person that sold the phone to Gizmodo but investigators tell the New York Times that Jason Chen may be charged in the case as well.
Will this have a chilling effect on bloggers?
It’s too early to say if this will have an impact on the reporting community but several cases before this had a bigger effect on online reporting than this will. But what I hope will come from this experience is that bloggers are, indeed journalists and they should ably by the same rules that apply to journalists.