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Gizmodo Editor's Computers Seized By Police

The investigation into possible wrongdoing by Gizmodo may itself have violated the law.
Police from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office in California on Friday seized computers belonging to Gizmodo editor Jason Chen as part of a felony investigation related to the tech gadget site's report about an unreleased Apple iPhone prototype last week.

Gizmodo, which received millions of extra page views and considerable publicity for disclosing the details of the prototype iPhone, purchased for $5,000 from the party who claimed to have found it, now stands to gain further attention: The Web site published the search warrant used to seize Chen's four computers, two servers, an iPad and iPhone, along with other gadgets.

The site says that police entered Chen's Fremont, Calif., residence without him present to take the computers.

Chen's account of what transpired that night -- he arrived to find the search in progress -- is detailed in a letter posted on the site.

Gizmodo has also posted a letter from Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, stating that the search warrant was not valid under section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code, or under federal law.

Section 1524(g) states, "No warrant shall issue for any item or items described in Section 1070 of the Evidence Code."

Section 1070 limits the seizure of property belonging to journalists if the property is related to their news gathering activities.

As Darbyshire points out in a letter addressed to the detective in charge of the case, this protection has been upheld for online journalists.

Having anticipated a possible seizure, Chen had printed out Darbyshire's explanation of his rights in advance, hoping to use it to retain his property were a seizure ordered. He showed the note to the police in an effort to keep his computers from being seized, but the police took his computers anyway. The note is listed on the search warrant inventory.

A spokesperson for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office directed a request for comment to the San Mateo District Attorney's Office.

San Mateo County Chief District Attorney Stephen M. Wagstaffe did not respond to a request for comment.