Free speech fight ends quietly in lost iPhone saga

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A brewing free-speech debate touched off by a lost prototype of Apple's iPhone has ended quietly with a blogger's agreement to cooperate with investigators.

A judge on Friday ordered a search warrant withdrawn and seized items returned to Jason Chen of Gizmodo.com. The technology website posted images in April of a prototype iPhone left in a Redwood City bar by an Apple employee.

Gizmodo said it paid money for the phone.

Investigators from the multi-district Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team had raided Chen's house and seized computer equipment as part of its investigation into whether any laws were broken.

The website and other media organizations objected to the raid as illegal because state law prohibits the seizure of unpublished notes from journalists.

"The search was clearly illegal," said Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Matt Zimmerman, who said that issue won't be fought in court with Gizmodo's agreement with authorities. Zimmerman said there's little debate that Chen qualifies as a journalist, who are explicitly protected from seizures of unpublished notes. Journalists can also invoke California's so-called shield law to fight orders to testify about their sources and newsgathering.

Neither Gizmodo nor San Mateo prosecutors would discuss the details of the deal or whether Chen would face criminal charges. Chen purchased the iPhone from Brian Hogan, who said he found it on the floor of a Redwood City bar. Hogan is also under criminal investigation, though no charges have been filed.

Lawyers for both men didn't immediately return telephone calls.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs mentioned the case briefly Friday during a discussion of the newest iPhone.

"Sometimes Web sites buy stolen prototypes and put them on the Web," he said. "And we don't like that."

© 2010 The Associated Press