iPhone Leak Investigation Pauses As DA Ponders Gizmodo Shield Law Defense

Earlier today news broke that police had raided Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home in connection with the iPhone leak last week. Authorities obtained a search warrant and removed four computers, two servers, and more. However, in light of claims by Gizmodo’s attorneys that Chen should be protected by California’s Shield Laws, we have just been told that the authorities are not yet looking through this evidence.

I just spoke to Stephen Wagstaffe, Chief Deputy at San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, who told me that nobody has yet been charged in the case, and at this point it is “just an investigation”. He says the investigation is “looking at any hand that touched or had something to do with this phone” but that the investigation is not currently targeting either Gawker or the person who originally found the phone — rather, police are collecting every fact they can to present to the DA, who will then make a decision.

With respect to the removal of Chen’s property, Wagstaffe says that the prosecutor on the case felt that the shield protection laws did not apply, so the raid was executed. However, after Gizmodo’s attorneys suggested some reasons why they believe Chen should be protected, the investigation has come to a bit of a pause. The DA will now reevaluate whether those shield laws do apply, and will not begin going through Chen’s possessions until they’ve reached a decision in the next few days (he says they’re in no hurry).

When I asked if it was typical for the DA to evaluate the relevance of these shield laws after removing evidence, Wagstaffe did concede that it was unusual. Which makes the situation extremely odd— it should have been readily apparent that Gawker would defend its actions using this shield law defense, why put the brakes on after the fact?

California’s shield laws protect journalists from having to turn over their sources and unpublished information they’ve collected as part of their reporting. However, Gizmodo could be found to have committed a crime when they paid the phone’s finder for the device.

Earlier today Yahoo News pointed out that Apple serves on the steering committee of REACT, a special task force involved with the investigation. Wagstaffe said that Apple played no part in REACT’s inclusion and that he wasn’t even aware that Apple was part of the committee.