Were Sheriffs Acting As Apple's Personal Stormtroopers?

Categories: Tech, internets
stormtropper.jpg
Pic via St3f4n/Flickr
We have to admit, the search warrant in the iPhonegate case is a hell of a read. You've got Steve Jobs personally demanding his property back from rogue bloggers, suitcases full of cash, roommates ratting each other out, and dope fiends going crazy. Okay, not the last one.  

There's also a hell of a lot to read into it. Pundits have pointed out how Apple "spurred" the investigation that led to the San Mateo County Sheriff's office raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home and carting off his computers and other items. That's certainly so. But, then again, companies and individuals who believe they've been the victims of crimes often get in contact with law-enforcement.

The stickier point here is, did the sheriffs feel some sort of pressure to move quickly and cart Chen's stuff off? While the affidavit accuses Chen of three crimes -- receipt of stolen property, theft, and maliciously damaging the property of another (the 4G prototype didn't work after Gizmodo disassembled it) -- he has not yet been charged with any crime yet. So a warrant was signed off by a judge that allowed law-enforcement to bust down a journalist's door and cart off his things largely to find information about someone else.
 
While this didn't seem to matter much to the sheriff's department, it has made the San Mateo County District Attorney's office uncomfortable. The warrant was executed by the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) task force -- a partnership of 17 local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies focusing on computer-oriented crime. Yes, Apple serves on REACT's steering committee. San Mateo County's chief deputy district attorney Stephen Wagstaffe claimed this came as news to them -- but this looks bad. At worst, it's a conspiracy. At best, this was all executed so quickly that sloppy details like this were overlooked.

Finally, what's the hurry? As John Cook of Yahoo News has pointed out, let's not forget that all this furor is over a single lost phone. It's doubtful you or I could summon the collective might of law-enforcement task forces and a platoon of cops to break down doors if our phones went missing.

Believe us. We've tried.


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