On Thursday, a day before Apple CEO Steve Jobs held a press conference about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s office withdrew the search warrant previously issued for Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home in the case of the stolen iPhone prototype. The withdrawal came after Chen agreed to voluntarily provide authorities with information.
“We did request and the court granted our request to withdraw the search warrant,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told Macworld. “The reason we’ve done this is that we arrived at an agreement with Tom Nolan, the attorney for Mr. Chen, that if we would agree to withdraw the warrant, they would agree to voluntarily have all information from the computer—which is in the hands of the special master now—provided to the REACT [Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team] detectives so it could be viewed.”
The two-page document ordering the withdrawal, a copy of which was obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that seized items will be returned to Chen through his attorney after the authorities verify the copies of the information that the Gizmodo editor is providing.
Chen’s house was searched by authorities in April after Gizmodo published information about a prototype iPhone 4 that was discovered in a Silicon Valley-area bar. Among the possessions seized from Chen’s property were several computers, cameras, and other technological devices, many of which belonged to Gizmodo.
The later unsealed warrant revealed that the iPhone prototype was a test unit belonging to Apple engineer Gray Powell, which was found by 21-year-old Brian Hogan. Hogan later sold the unit to Gizmodo for the sum of $5,000 and was himself apprehended by authorities.
Gizmodo parent company Gawker and the EFF contend that the warrant issued to search Chen’s house was illegal, as Chen’s status as a journalist entitled him to protection under California’s shield laws. Others, meanwhile, have argued that the shield law is intended to protect journalists from disclosing sources who have committed a crime, and not journalists themselves who have committed a crime.
Going forward, however, that point may be moot, according to Wagstaffe. The Chief Deputy D.A. says that because Chen is voluntarily providing the request information, it “puts to an end any first amendment issues.”
However, the withdrawn search warrant does not mean that investigation is at an end. If nothing else, feelings about the incident clearly still run high. Jobs took pot shots at Gizmodo at Friday’s press conference, even saying at one point, “You know, sometimes Web sites buy stolen prototypes and put them on the Web. And we don’t like that.”