Apple IDs person who found iPhone prototype

Tech news website Gizmodo got hold of a prototype of the iPhone 4G after it was left in a bar in Redwood City, Calif., and Gizmodo's analysis of its new features, along with video and pictures, is setting the web on fire. (Courtesy Gizmodo.com)
April 28, 2010 7:34:14 PM PDT
Apple representatives have reportedly visited the home of the person who found an iPhone prototype at a Redwood City bar.

Wired.com's Threat Level blog reports that people who identified themselves as Apple representatives went to the home of the man who said he found the device at a Redwood City beer garden on March 18. The blog says the person's roommate, who was at the house, refused to let the group in when they asked for permission to search the premises.

Meantime, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaff says his office has interviewed the yet unidentified person.

A special multi-agency investigative team that specializes in high-tech crime last Friday raided the home of Jason Chen, an editor with the tech blog Gizmodo. Chen had posted a story last week with details of the iPhone prototype after the blog paid $5,000 to the person who found the device.

Gizmodo eventually returned the iPhone to Apple after the company demanded it back.

The incident has opened a Pandora's Box of legal and ethical issues. There is talk about First Amendment and civil rights violations, as well as possible criminal charges.

"Probably the most likely charge we'd see if we see any charges at all, would be somewhere along the lines of a theft of trade secrets," ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson said.

A source at the bar told ABC7, Apple engineer Gray Powell went back numerous times that week, looking for it.

The yet unidentified person who found the iPhone sold it to Gizmodo for $5,000. Gizmodo says it paid $5,000 to the finder only because it wanted exclusive rights to the story.

Johnson believes that is not going to wash.

"People knew they had something remarkable here, something that was worth $5,000; and if you pay money, consideration for something that contains a trade secret, that's potentially a crime," he said.

Last Friday, a joint law enforcement task force specializing in high tech crime raided Chen's Fremont home after obtaining a search warrant.

The search warrant, which was signed by a judge April 23, lists 22 items taken from Chen's home. They include his computers, cameras, storage devices bank account documents and credit card information, items that the search warrant says may have been "used in committing a felony."

Chen's newly retained attorney Tom Nolan told ABC7 the raid on his client's home was illegal.

"We're basically saying a search warrant is not the way to get material that you think you're entitled to," Nolan said.

Nolan says his client is a bona fide journalist and his sources and property related to his job are protected by California's shield law and authorities instead should have gone to court to subpoena the seized items.

"A subpoena allows you to go to the court with the items they request, the specific items, with a lawyer, and challenge the items," Nolan said.

Nolan and the D.A. are in negotiations to resolve the legal issues.


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