Prosecutors Oppose Unsealing Search Warrant in Probe of IPhone Prototype

California prosecutors objected to disclosing search warrant documents in an investigation of the possible theft of an Apple Inc. iPhone prototype to keep secret the identities of two people investigators want to interview, lawyers involved in the case said.

The security of the continuing probe could be compromised by disclosure of an affidavit written by investigators to persuade a judge to issue the warrant, said San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Chris Feasel in a state court filing in Redwood City, California.

Prosecutors said the basis for putting the affidavit under court seal was to conceal the identities of two individuals, neither of whom work at Apple, said Katherine Keating, an attorney representing news organizations seeking to unseal the document, in an e-mail.

“The reasons for keeping the affidavit sealed include maintaining the confidentiality of one or more potential witnesses in the case,” Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said in an e-mail.

Judge Stephen Hall today transferred a request by media organizations to unseal the document to Judge Clifford Cretan, the judge who approved the warrant. A hearing may be scheduled for next week.

The First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael, California- based group, and six media organizations, including Bloomberg News, CBS Corp.’s CNet News and the Los Angeles Times, filed an application in court yesterday to make the affidavit public.

Gizmodo Editor

An investigation into Apple’s claim that the prototype device was stolen led authorities to obtain a search warrant, enter the home of Gizmodo.com staff editor Jason Chen and seize computers and electronics, according to documents and interviews.

The next-generation iPhone, which technology blog Gizmodo said it purchased for $5,000 after it was found at a bar in a San Francisco suburb, was returned to Cupertino, California- based Apple a few days before Chen’s home was searched.

The investigation is on hold because prosecutors have decided not to search Chen’s computers while they and Chen’s attorneys discuss whether it’s possible to segregate information about the prototype iPhone stored on the devices so that the rest of Chen’s data doesn’t end up in prosecutors’ hands, Wagstaffe said.

If a resolution can’t be reached, Chen’s attorneys can go to court to seek the return of the computers, and a judge will decide whether the search warrant was proper, he said. Gawker Media said in an April 26 statement that such searches involving online journalists violate state and federal laws.

The case is In Re Sealed Search Warrant Records, 2010-0034, San Mateo County Superior Court (Redwood City, California).

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net.

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