Coppers try to keep Gizmodo search notes secret

Inspector Knacker of the San Mateo County Yard has asked for the reasons it gave to illegally search a reporter’s home on behalf of the Apple gizmo to be kept secret.

Coppers searched the home of a Gizmodo editor and seized his computers while looking for someone who handed a beta 4G iPhone into the magazine.

The reason given to the court was that police were looking for a stolen mobile phone which was reported to them by Apple. The only problem with that story is that Apple had the phone in its hot little hands at the time as Gizmodo had given it back.

Under US law, reporters are protected from such searches unless they are involved in criminal activity. However what appears to have happened is the coppers decided that Gizmodo was a blog and not a newspaper.

But the police are refusing to say. In fact they have asked the judge to seal their reasons for the raid so that no one can find out.

It would be amazing if this was the reason that cops allowed the search a state appeals court and has extended protection to Apple bloggers who refused to hand over their contacts in one case.

Now a group that also includes the California-based First Amendment Coalition and prominent news organizations is drafting a legal brief that will ask a court to unseal the detective’s affidavit used to obtain a search warrant nearly two weeks ago. San Mateo County prosecutors have persuaded a judge to seal all the records of the case.

The only way out is that the anti-search law does have an explicit exception, at least one court has suggested that the protections do not extend to journalists suspected of a crime.

This was also hinted at by the prosecutors who implied that the search was to “look for the phone” and the computer seizure was to look for evidence that would lead to the phone.  

It does seem odd that Apple failed to mention it had the phone to the investigation, or if it did, then why police carried out the raid to look for it.  

Roger Myers, a partner at Holme Roberts and Owen in San Francisco, is drafting the brief for the media organizations. Myers has led other attempts to keep court hearings open in California, including representing CNET, Wired.com, and the First Amendment Coalition in a lawsuit involving AT&T and allegations of illegal wiretapping.

California law says that search warrants “shall be open to the public as a judicial record” no later than 10 days after a judge signs it, which would have been Monday. But all records in this case are sealed, and the court clerk’s office has refused even to divulge a copy of the secret court order sealing them.

The question here is why? It could be that prosecutors and the police are deeply worried that they will be seen as acting as enforcers for a private company like Apple.