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Search warrant for Gizmodo editor's home withdrawn

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
California county officials last week withdrew a search warrant that was executed months earlier when government-authorized agents from a technology…

California county officials last week withdrew a search warrant that was executed months earlier when government-authorized agents from a technology crime task force searched the home of an online news editor and seized computers and servers related to his coverage of an Apple iPhone prototype.

Government-authorized agents from the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, which investigates technology-related disputes or crime, in April used the warrant to enter and search the home of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen after the technology website published stories about a yet-to-be-released iPhone model, which was purchased without Apple’s knowledge from another individual. The government was reportedly considering whether to file criminal charges in connection with the site’s purchase of a lost iPhone and there was some dispute as to whether the phone had been stolen or lost by an Apple employee.

Though Chen and Gizmodo have agreed to voluntarily furnish law enforcement with specific information about how they obtained the phone now that the search warrant has been withdrawn, the website, owned by Gawker Media, had objected to the seizure of the materials as a violation of state and federal law, which require subpoenas to take evidence from newsrooms, not search warrants. 

"It appears that the police, a) didn’t think about the [laws against newsroom searches] or b) thought about those provisions but failed to properly evaluate the legality of the search under those provisions," said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will file criminal charges against the editor and publisher regarding the phone.