The Appalling Reaction to the Apple iPhone Leak

Sure, the company complained to the top editors at EN. They threatened leakers with being fired if they were exposed (ironically, that order came from the chief leaker himself -- which should serve as a warning to those who immediately assume that all insider information is, by definition, stolen). And they tried to cut off all access by Simon to the company (he kept publishing leaks anyway).

But no one at Hewlett-Packard ever thought that what Mark Simon was doing was illegal. No one thought he didn't have the right, as a reporter, to publish that insider information he had. Indeed, even when he pre-announced a $1 billion new product and completely screwed up our plans for a press conference and elaborate media roll-out, no one ever considered it a crime. Only that he was just an infuriatingly good reporter, and that we needed to do a better job of security on our side.

Now, roll forward 35 years. A couple weeks ago, Jason Chen, an editor/blogger at the tech site Gizmodo (part of the large gossip blog family Gawker Media) found himself in possession of a prototype of the new Apple G4 iPhone and proceeded to post photos of it on the site. As you can imagine, all hell broke loose as the Web buzzed with speculation about the source of the images, whether the device was stolen, and whether it really was Apple's newest super-product.

What we now know is that the device was indeed a G4 iPhone, not scheduled for formal introduction for weeks hence; and that it wasn't stolen, but accidentally left by an Apple employee in a Silicon Valley beer garden. Whoever found it was knowledgeable enough to know what it was -- and proceeded to sell it to Gawker for a purported $5,000.

Does California's Shield Law Protect Bloggers Like Chen?

So far, it's a classic story: idiot employee, who will no doubt soon be fired, leaves a valuable piece of insider information in a bar ... and it eventually makes its way to an enterprising journalist. The money changing hands is a little distressing, but not without precedent. At this point, the publication should be crowing about its scoop and the company should be chagrined and doubling up on its security.

But we live in a different world now, far removed from the rough and tumble world of "The Front Page." In the interregnum between the death of old media and the rise of the new, journalism has temporarily lost most of its muscle -- a dangerous situation in a nation built on a powerful free press.

So, what happened? This week, Chen's house was raided by officers from California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT), a special task force of police officers and federal agents created to combat computer-related crimes -- and which just happens to have Apple on its steering committee. The cops took all of Chen's computer equipment.

Meanwhile, the San Mateo County district attorney is considering whether to bring charges against Chen. It all hinges around whether California's journalist shield law covers bloggers. Well, speaking as someone who was an investigative reporter for one of the nation's top 10 newspapers: Of course it does.

This is appalling. As Instapundit uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds has rightly noted, this is basically "gangland politics," with one side getting to use to the police as its muscle. He's also correct in noting that neither the police nor Apple would ever have tried this against, say, the San Jose Mercury-News (I know because I worked there).

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