April 28, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Raid on blogger’s home revives issue of shield law protection for bloggers

There is a growing controversy about the raid that the police carried out on 23 April on the California home of blogger Jason Chen, the editor of Gizmodo, a blog about gadgets and technology, because it obtained a prototype iPhone and published an exclusive about it, together with photos and videos, without Apple’s agreement.

Desktops, laptops, portable hard drives, cameras and gadgets were all seized in the raid on Chen’s home.

“All items seized during the raid must be returned to Jason Chen without delay,” Reporters Without Borders said. “California’s shield law protects the sources and working material of bloggers involved in reporting news and information to the public.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Even if the iPhone was acquired in questionable circumstances, we are astonished by the disproportionate scale of the measures taken against Chen, especially the amount of equipment seized that had nothing to do with this case.”

Owned by Gawker Media, Gizmodo reportedly paid $5,000 to gain access to the prototype iPhone, which an Apple engineer left in a bar. Gizmodo subsequently returned it to Apple.

The police raid was carried out by a special information technology unit called the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) on a warrant issued by a San Mateo county judge on the grounds that the seized equipment could have been used to commit a crime. Apple happens to be a member of the REACT steering committee, which means there could have been a conflict of interest.

The state of California’s legislation is one of the most protective in the country as regards the sources and working material of journalists. Gawker Media is claiming that the search warrant was illegal under section 1524(g) of the Californian criminal code and is citing O’Grady vs Superior Court, a case in which an appeal court ruled that the shield law applies to online journalists.

The courts must now decide between those who invoke the shield law’s protection in the name of the right to information, and those who accuse Gizmodo of receiving stolen property.