California prosecutors investigating Gizmodo’s purchase of a prototype iPhone have offered a new argument for keeping details of the probe a secret: Public disclosure could compromise “the identity of an informer.”
The claim, made in a court filing Thursday, is the first indication that police cultivated an inside source prior to raiding the home of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen, whose employer paid $5,000 for a prototype 4G iPhone found at a Redwood City bar.
Wired.com, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Time and other news outlets have asked a California judge to unseal the search warrant affidavit that led to the raid on Chen’s Fremont, California, home last month. We argued that under California law, the public has a right to see the documents that led San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Clifford V. Cretan to approve the search. A hearing in San Mateo County Superior Court has been set for Friday.
Last month’s search raised questions whether the authorities overstepped their boundaries in breaking into the home of the Gizmodo journalist and seizing six computers and other items.
Prosecutors in the investigation initially said last week they wanted to keep the document sealed to avoid tipping off two unnamed people of interest. But in a court filing (.pdf), prosecutors cited a provision of the California Evidence Code that protects informants from identification.
The right to access court documents does not “outweigh the Peoples’ right to protect the sanctity of an ongoing investigation,” wrote San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Chris Feasel, “nor does it outweigh the rights of the people to protect the identity of persons who may have provided information to law enforcement in confidence during the initial stages of investigation.”
Prosecutors have rejected a proposed compromise that would unseal the affidavit with any sensitive names redacted.
On April 19, Gizmodo dropped a bombshell on the gadget world with a detailed look at the iPhone prototype an Apple employee had apparently lost at a bar. The attorney for 21-year-old Brian J. Hogan has acknowledged it was his client who found the device, and passed it to Gizmodo in exchange for a payment. Gizmodo publisher Gawker Media says it paid $5,000 for the iPhone, and returned the phone to Apple following publication of the story.
Hogan’s attorney has acknowledged that his client met with investigators, but declined to say whether authorities executed a search on Hogan.