updated 11:05 am EDT, Thu June 3, 2010
Search to be limited to iPhone prototype deal
A San Mateo court has ordered the go-ahead for a search of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's computers, says the county's chief deputy district attorney, Stephen Wagstaffe. The court is specifically said to have appointed a "special master" for the task, who will be limited to collecting details related to Gizmodo's $5,000 purchase of an iPhone prototype. Wagstaffe explains that a special master is an unpaid agent, typically a former judge or law professor acting as a volunteer. Masters are supposed to be detached from their assigned cases, although court orders are alleged to be preventing the disclosure of the person handling the Gizmodo matter.
To keep the data's use in check, the results of the search will first be sent to a judge, and then to Chen and his lawyers so they can make any objections. Only after the judge rules on the objections will the district attorney be given access to a whittled-down set of search findings. The process could take up to two months, according to Wagstaffe.
The results could be critical in the case, as months have gone by without any iPhone-related charges being filed against Chen or anyone else. Chen bought the prototype on a temporary basis from Brian Hogan, who claims to have found it at a Redwood City bar, accidentally left behind by an Apple engineer. This point is disputed by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who alleges that the phone may or may not have been stolen out of the engineer's bag, rather than simply found.
Apparently resolved is the matter of whether investigators considered journalistic shield laws before raiding Chen's home. A search of the editor's computers was initially held off for this reason; Wagstaffe, however, says his office did consider the laws, and decided to move ahead. The department is also said to have recently come to an agreement with Chen attorney Thomas Nolan about how computers could be searched.