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Wednesday, May 05, 2010, 06:40 pm PT (09:40 pm ET)

Media ask court to unseal affidavit used in iPhone prototype raid

Major media outlets, looking into the legality of a police raid of the home of the Gizmodo editor who obtained a prototype iPhone, have asked a California judge to unseal the search warrant affidavit.

The Associated Press and other news organizations formally asked a judge on Wednesday to unseal the warrant, which was used to seize the computers of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen. The AP reported that the raid's legality is "one of many unanswered questions" in the case.

"Apple is notoriously secretive about unreleased products, and Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's dissection of what may be the next-generation iPhone appears to have rubbed the company the wrong way," the report said.

When Chen's home was searched, the search warrant itself was made public, but the news organizations seek the affidavit, which spells out the legal reasons for a search. Those documents are typically made public within 10 days, but the paperwork related to the raid, which occurred on April 23, remains sealed by the court.

"The media organizations are trying to learn whether there was a reason for the search warrant more compelling than the legal protections given to journalists," the report said. The AP is joined in its request by Bloomberg News, CNet News, the Los Angeles Times, Wired.com, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the First Amendment Coalition. A hearing related to the motion has been scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

The search warrant used in the raid was issued by a judge of the superior court in San Mateo County, Calif., and suggested the computers in Chen's home may have been used to commit a felony. California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team seized four computers, two servers, and numerous other electronic devices in the search.

But authorities are waiting to analyze the data seized in the raid, as authorities attempt to discern whether Chen was protected under the California shield laws intended to protect journalists. Prosecutors are currently considering arguments as to whether the search was illegal, and Gizmodo may attempt to sue the police over the raid.

Gizmodo and its parent company, Gawker Media, paid $5,000 to obtain the prototype device from a person who found it after it was lost at a California bar. The handset was left behind at a Redwood City establishment by an Apple engineer who frantically searched for the device after it was left behind. A spokesman for the San Mateo County district attorney's office told the AP that both Apple and the engineer reported the lost phone to the authorities.