Free speech fight ends quietly in lost iPhone saga

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A brewing free-speech debate touched off by a lost prototype of Apple’s iPhone has ended quietly with a blogger’s agreement to cooperate with investigators.

Thomas J. Nolan Jr., a lawyer for Jason Chen of Gizmodo.com, said Monday that technology website agreed to the deal with prosecutors to resolve the case as quickly as possible.

A judge on Friday ordered a search warrant withdrawn and seized items returned to Chen. The website posted images in April of a prototype iPhone left in a Redwood City bar by an Apple employee.

Gizmodo said it paid money for the phone.

Investigators from the multi-district Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team had raided Chen’s house and seized computer equipment as part of its investigation into whether any laws were broken.

The website and other media organizations objected, saying the raid was illegal because state law prohibits the seizure of unpublished notes from journalists.

“The search was clearly illegal,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Matt Zimmerman, who added that issue won’t be fought in court after Gizmodo’s agreement with authorities.

Zimmerman said there’s little debate that Chen qualifies as a journalist, who are explicitly protected from seizures of unpublished notes. Journalists can also invoke California’s so-called shield law to fight orders to testify about their sources and newsgathering.

“We still think the search warrant is and was inappropiate,” Nolan said. “It is a very practical resolution that doesn’t require us to litigate any further.”

Nolan said once investigators review what is turned over to them, he believes they will drop their investigation without filing charges.

Chen purchased the iPhone from Brian Hogan, who said he found it on the floor of a Redwood City bar. Hogan is also under criminal investigation, though no charges have been filed.

Lawyers for both men didn’t immediately return telephone calls.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs mentioned the case briefly Friday during a discussion of the newest iPhone.

“Sometimes Web sites buy stolen prototypes and put them on the Web,” he said. “And we don’t like that.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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