San Mateo County police now looking into the lost iPhone prototype

About eighteen seconds after word got out that a prototype of Apple’s next iPhone had been lost, found, and then subsequently sold to Gizmodo (for somewhere around $5,000), commenters and pundits everywhere started asking: is all this legal? There are a bunch of complicated laws involving the ownership and selling of lost goods — not to mention lost top-secret intellectual property — and this iPhone seemed to be sitting in a pretty nasty gray area.

Turns out, the people of the Internets aren’t the only ones interested — police in the county of San Mateo are curious, as well.

The folks at CNET spoke to a source at an unnamed Silicon Valley police department, who said that a “computer crime task force led by the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office” is now investigating the matter.

Update: This article originally said that police in Santa Clara county were investigating — turns out, it’s the San Mateo County police. The task force is, however, lead by the Santa Clara County DA’s office.

It’s not at all clear who (if anyone) they’re aiming the law hammer at, be it the gent who found the prototype for turning around and selling it, or Gizmodo for buying it. Either way, things get even more complex when you bring in the First Amendment and freedom of the press; what if Giz won’t reveal who sold them the iPhone? Is that protecting a source, or some sort of crazy mixed up obstruction of justice?

Giz took things to a new level, for better or worse, in purchasing the prototype and publishing what they did — and if any legal action goes down as a result, it’ll undoubtedly set a precedent. With that said: In the long run, it’s just a phone. No one died, nothing too earth shattering was revealed from a trade secret standpoint was revealed (Gasp! New shape!), and Apple got their prototype back. Sure, it’ll make Apple’s June announcement ever so slightly less exciting — but is that worthy of a mark on someone’s criminal record?