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Thursday, June 03, 2010, 08:15 am PT (11:15 am ET)

Gizmodo editor's devices being examined in prototype iPhone case

The computers and devices of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen, seized in April as part of an investigation into the obtained prototype Apple iPhone, are now being examined for evidence.

Stephen Wagstaffe, chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, Calif., told Cnet on Wednesday that the authorities had begun obtaining information from Chen's devices. Previously, officials said they were waiting to determine whether the suspect was protected as a journalist under state laws.

Wagstaffe reportedly said that his department and Chen's attorney "came to an agreement on how Chen's computer and other equipment could be searched." That agreement calls for a "special master" to search the items seized. The special master is an independent volunteer who will search the devices to find what is believed to be relevant to the case. The appropriate information will be reviewed by Chen and his lawyers so they can make objections, and then a judge will decide what to forward to the district attorney.

Attorneys for Gawker Media, the parent company of Gizmodo, argued that the search warrant used to obtain Chen's devices was invalid. Authorities entered Chen's home in late April and seized four computers and two servers, along with a number of devices including an iPad, iPhone, AirPort Extreme and multiple external hard drives.

The editor was not arrested, but authorities broke open the front door to his home and searched the property, obtaining the electronics for evidence. Chen has still not been charged with a crime, though the investigation continues.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs spoke about the Gizmodo case at this week's D8 conference. The chief executive openly questioned whether Chen is considered to be a journalist, drawing gasps from the audience.

"There's a debate about whether he left in a bar, or if it was stolen out of his bag," Jobs said.

The saga of the lost prototype iPhone began in March when an Apple engineer went to a bar in Redwood City, Calif. The Apple employee frantically searched for the device when he discovered he no longer had it, but it was taken and sold by another person for $5,000 to Gizmodo.

The non-functional hardware was photographed and disassembled by the website. Gizmodo also asked Apple for a formal letter requesting the device, something Jobs said this week said he felt amounted to "extortion."

"This is a story that's amazing: It's got theft, it's got buying stolen property, it's got extortion," Jobs said. "I'm sure there's some sex in there."