iPhone Flap Sparks Police Raid, Raises Question Whether California Shield Law Was Violated When an unlucky Apple employee left a still-secret iPhone prototype in a bar, the person who found it reportedly sold it to the gadget blog Gizmodo for $5,000. Then the Gizmodo blogger's home office was searched by law enforcement, and more questions are swirling: Were Apple's corporate secrets illegally purchased? Was a California journalist-shield law violated?
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iPhone Flap Sparks Police Raid, Shield-Law Talk

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iPhone Flap Sparks Police Raid, Shield-Law Talk

iPhone Flap Sparks Police Raid, Shield-Law Talk

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now that the iPad is on the shelves, tech chatter has moved on to the next-generation iPhone.

Last week, a blog called Gizmodo published pictures and descriptions of an unreleased version of the iPhone.

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the blog and the man who gave them the iPhone may have committed a crime.

LAURA SYDELL: According to Gizmodo, here's what happened: A guy was in a bar and he happened to stumble upon something shiny - the new, not-yet-released iPhone. The guy claims he called Apple but no one called him back. So, Gizmodo pays this guy $5,000 for the phone, then the blog publishes pictures and a description and rabid Apple fans race to the site.

Gizmodo gets a call from Apple: The company wants its phone back. Yesterday, Gizmodo revealed that police were involved. They raided the home of their editor Jason Chen, and confiscated his computers as part of an investigation into whether the iPhone was stolen.

The guy who found the phone and Gizmodo could be guilty of theft under California law says attorney Sam Bayard of the Citizen Media Law Project.

Mr. SAM BAYARD (Attorney, Citizen Media Law Project): California law imposes a duty on him, if he doesn't know who the owner is, to turn it over to the police. And I think there's a serious question about whether he violated the law by selling it to them and whether they violated the law by receiving it or buying it.

SYDELL: That may be true, but the police investigation is also bumping up against California's shield law for journalists. Although bloggers are still not considered journalists in all states, they are in California says Jennifer Granick, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Police can't just take editor Chen's computers.

Ms. JENNIFER GRANICK (Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation): California law says they can't get access to any notes or photographs or data of any kind that was prepared as part of news gathering.

SYDELL: The San Mateo police are backing down a bit. They say they are examining the shield law and they haven't looked at what's on the computers yet.

The shield law is meant to protect sources of important news stories who might not come forward if authorities forced journalists to reveal their names.

For example, says Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, recent stories in The New York Times about CIA secret prisons had probably relied on classified information from sources who could have been arrested if their names were revealed.

But being the first kid on the block to get a new iPhone is hardly a matter of national security. McBride says even if Gizmodo is covered by the shield law, the fact that they paid for the iPhone raises some serious ethical questions for journalists.

Ms. KELLY MCBRIDE (Ethics Group Leader, Poynter Institute): People will distort information if they know that there's a significant amount of money available to them. People will steal information.

SYDELL: Unfortunately, McBride says, we are likely to see more of this kind of behavior because of a growing number of media outlets that cater to people with very specific specialties - Apple products or celebrity gossip.

Ms. MCBRIDE: So they have a niche that expects them to pay for information, that expects them to get the text messages from the latest mistress of the famous golfer.

SYDELL: McBride says in an increasingly competitive media world, the pressure to do what it takes to get attention is going to grow.

Gizmodo says that its page views went through the roof after they published the next generation iPhone pictures.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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