Many bloggers and commentators are making much of the fact that San Mateo police served a search warrant on the home of Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen and confiscated computers, servers and other equipment, probably as a result of his postings about the capabilities of the lost prototype Apple 4G iPhone.

Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, made public the fact that it paid $5,000 for the prototype iPhone which was accidentally left in a bar by one of Apple’s software engineers last month.

Gawker publisher, Chief Operating Officer Gaby Darbyshire, has claimed that the search was unlawful because Chen is a journalist and protected by shield laws.

Tech Herald story here.

New York Times coverage here.

The claims that Chen is a “journalist” and protected by shield laws is so far off base it’s absurd. If a journalist COMMITS a crime he isn’t protected under any shield law. Shield laws only protect them from punishment for failing to reveal their sources.

Chen and Gawker basically presented the prosecution with a prima facie case. They publicized the fact that Gawker paid $5,000 for the iPhone and had physical possession of it. Chen appears in a video with it.

If you find something and keep it, that falls under laws with names like “theft of property lost or mislaid.”

And if you buy something you know was stolen, well, that’s “receiving stolen property.”

Gawker and Chen really should have known that something as valuable as a prototype next-gen iPhone was high profile enough that there was going to be some legal action. And along with a conviction will be restitution for damage to Apple that could be in the range of millions of dollars.

Shield laws are intended to protect journalists working in the public interest – which generally translates to investigating government misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance.

Publicizing the fact that you paid for a stolen prototype so you can scoop the world and reveal its feature is way-not public interest. It’s just dumb. It’s world-class dumb. It’s “lets-invade-Russia-in-October” class dumb.

This isn’t about protecting the rights of journalists/bloggers, it about breaking the law to get a scoop.