updated 03:55 pm EDT, Tue May 11, 2010
DA, media outfits in conflict over shield law
A Friday court hearing has been scheduled in the matter of unsealing records linked to the police search of the home of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen. The meeting is set for 9AM Friday morning in Redwood City, and should settle a conflict which was only extended when a request was initially denied by a San Mateo County judge. Asking for the access to an affidavit is a group of media outfits, including CNET, Bloomberg and the Associated Press, who say they want to know whether prosecutors considered journalistic shield laws before authorizing a raid.
The document would normally have become public after 10 days. Beyond the earlier ruling, however, a county district attorney has submitted a four-page brief, arguing that First Amendment rights do not "outweigh the rights of the people to protect the identity of persons who may have provided information to law enforcement in confidence during the initial stages of the investigation." It's not certain who the informant(s) may be, although potential players include staff at Apple or Gizmodo, or the people associated with finding the lost iPhone prototype in the first place.
Both Californian and federal laws offer some protection against searches of news outlets. There has been some question as to whether Chen is a legitimate journalist, however, and there are circumstances under which a search can be legal. If Chen is being accused of a criminal act, for example, shield laws may not apply.