Another piece of the iPhonegate puzzle has fallen into place. It’s been officially revealed for the first time that Apple reported it’s iPhone 4G protoype as “stolen,” not lost, according to the Wall Street Journal:
Stephen Wagstaffe, the chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, said Apple contacted authorities and “advised us there had been a theft,” which led to the search warrant and an investigation.
Until now, it’s been rumored that Apple considered the iPhone stolen — but hasn’t been officially confirmed. The distinction, of course, is crucial. If authorities conclude the iPhone was stolen, Gizmodo may be on the hook for buying stolen property. If the iPhone was lost, Gizmodo may be in the clear. However, under California law, a lost item that isn’t properly returned to its owner may also sometimes be considered stolen.
The authorities themselves don’t seem to have reached a conclusion yet. It is still unclear if they are investigating Gizmodo or the person who sold Gizmodo the phone. CNet spoke to the San Mateo District Attorney , reporting that it “has not been able to confirm whether the felony investigation is targeting Gizmodo staff, the iPhone seller, or someone else.”
If the authorities conclude that Gizmodo bought stolen property, staff may face up to a year in prison. But if police and the District Attorney are pursuing the seller, the raid on Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s home may not have been warranted. Gizmodo may be protected under California shield laws, which prohibit judges from issuing search warrants against editorial publications, including online news sites. Techcrunch reports that the investigation has been “paused” while authorities decide whether Gizmodo is shielded or not.