Jason Chen, an editor who works for Gizmodo (a very popular tech blog) did a written piece and a video about a 4G iPhone that was supposedly left in a bar. Sometime afterwards, police broke down his door, entered his home and confiscated four computers, two servers and some other stuff. A judge issued a warrant, so I’m going to assume that someone was able to make a compelling argument that a warrant was more appropriate than a subpoena. But, let’s let the lawyers sort that out. They certainly will.
California, where all of this took place, has a shield law for journalists. I am having trouble imagining a situation where government officials would enter a newspaper, radio or television newsroom and attempt to confiscate computers and servers. But like I said, the lawyers will sort this out.
If there is no legal precedent for this warrant, among other things, it begs for the questions, what is a newsroom in the 21st century? Jason works for a popular blog. Does that make him a journalist? What if he just happened to have a blog … maybe a free one on WordPress, would that qualify?
What if he used his iPhone or other smart phone to access and update his blog … used the same device to take and upload pictures and videos? Would his smart phone be considered a “newsroom?” If so, could anyone hide behind the shield laws, claiming that they are journalists? What about the information stored on their devices and in their clouds, is it “protected?”
I like to tell my consulting clients that five years ago, if you added up all of the television and radio stations plus the cable operators, there were about 25,000 broadcast entities in the United States. Today, no matter how you look at it, there are over 180 million. From a technical perspective, the millions of Internet-connected computer users and the millions more who have network-connected smart phones are real broadcasters. Everyone with a connected computer, a smart phone or an app phone can make their content available to a worldwide audience almost instantly. But, does that make them journalists?
Apple/Gizmodo-gate is both a teaching moment and a learning moment. It is time to have a very serious look at how connected devices have redefined our roles. And, while we’re at it, we should think about redefining the rules.