CNET seems to have the most intelligent commentary on the Apple iPhone / Gizmodo case that may have far-reaching implications for technology and new age journalism. Gawker is likely to move forward with the case without a settlement (or perhaps because the state will refuse to settle this without criminal charges), so we are probably going to see some important decisions about how much protection bloggers have.
Some will argue – I feel speciously – that this is a case about freedom of the press when in fact it’s a case about the relationship of the media to criminal activity. How far should the law go to protect the rights of the media when stories are based on stolen goods or illegally obtained information? A few years back Gizmodo got off the hook very easy after a malicious prank at CES to disrupt a presentation. The lax standards in the blogging journalism world – where fun, alarmism, distortion and opportunism trumps professionalism much of the time – have got to come home to roost sometime.
Personally I’d be a lot more sympathetic to Gizmodo if this was about some sort of political or general technology issue where they could make a case that the public right to transparency and knowledge trumps the way they got the information. (e.g. Pentagon Papers) However the iPhone case seems to mostly be about commercial issues, presented in a commercial way for monetary advantage. I’m guessing this will be the nail in the coffin of Gizmodo’s case and lead to a (relatively minor) criminal charge.
It’s clear that federal and state law generally provides journalists–even gadget bloggers–with substantial protections by curbing searches of their employees’ workspaces. But it’s equally clear that journalists suspected of criminal activity do not benefit from the legal shields that newspapers and broadcast media have painstakingly erected over the last half-century.
No less an authority than a California appeals court has ruled that the state’s shield law does not prevent reporters from being forced, under penalty of contempt, to testify about criminal activity, if they’re believed to be involved in it.