Police in California have seized computers belonging to the editor of a gadget blog which was involved in the purchase of an iPhone prototype.
Gizmodo paid $5,000 to an unnamed individual for the prototype, which was left behind at a local bar by an Apple software engineer. Gizmodo online editor Jason Chen published photographs and videos of the phone last week.
Chen said that he and his wife returned from having dinner on Friday night to find police searching their home. "The officers had a computer and were cataloguing all the items they took from my house. They told me they were here for a few hours already and had to break the front door open because I wasn't at home," he said.
The technology blog published the search warrant documents online. In those documents, prosecutors admit to taking the editor's computer as they may have been used to commit a felony. Apple sent a request to Gizmodo last week asking it to return the prototype handset, which it complied with. By that time, however, the technology blog had already published details of the next-generation iPhone, which is expected to be unveiled later this year.
Advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it found the latest events worrying for two reasons. "You have a reporter who is disseminating newsworthy information to the public, who are supposed to be protected from search and seizures. These protections apply to people who collect information in order to report it to the public regardless of what name you slap on them; blogger, journalist or whatever," Jennifer Ganick, the EFF's civil liberties director, told reporters.
The second issue the EFF is concerned about is whether police officers are doing the investigative work of a private company. "If there was some offense here it is not apparent what it is", Ganick said.
The raids in question were conducted by the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (React), a Californian computer crime task force. The task force works closely with the computer industry and Apple is reported to be one of 25 tech firms that sit on the steering committee.