The Lost iPhone 5: More Questions Than Answers - UPDATED

Summary:Questions loom about SF police and Apple's search of a man's home for an iPhone 5 prototype.

UPDATE 09/07/11: San Francisco Police have begun looking into what role officers played in a search by Apple for a missing unreleased iPhone. Police did, in fact, threaten Sergio Calderón that they would come back with a search warrant if he did not consent to a search, then instead allowed Apple employees to search his house. Lt. Troy Dangerfield, of the San Francisco Police Department, told CNET today that an internal investigation has begun into determining how officers assisted two Apple security employees in their search.

/UPDATE

Conflicting statements from the SFPD started last Wednesday after CNet reported that Apple had lost an iPhone prototype in a San Francisco tequila bar - in July - and Apple had searched a man's home with local police officers.

San Francisco police responded to the news saying they had no knowledge of their involvement in a search of a local man's home for the lost phone.

Many then thought Apple employees had impersonated police - including even the police themselves.

But one day after the searched man contacted a local blog with his side of the story, the SFPD admitted assisting Apple in pointlessly searching the San Francisco resident's house, car - and his computer.

Were the San Francisco police no more than Apple's muscle?

CNet first revealed that according to a source close to the investigation, San Francisco police investigators working with Apple personnel traced the phone to the home of a man who said he didn't have it, nor did he know anything about it. The phone was not found.

This reminded everyone of the iPhone 4 prototype left in a Redwood City German beer bar and sold to Gizmodo last year. That time, Apple contacted San Mateo police and obtained a warrant within hours, and Gizmodo Editor Jason Chen (corrected) arrived home to find his property being searched and seized. Without him present, they took four computers and two servers. The items were returned when a judge found the warrant-backed search to be illegal and withdrew the warrant.

San Mateo might be in Apple's backyard, but here in San Francisco this time things went quite a bit differently - much less smoothly.

When CNet reported that the lost prototype had been traced to SF's sleepy Bernal Heights neighborhood, local blog SF Weekly got on the phone to ask the SFPD what was going on. SFPD spokesman Officer Albie Esparza told the Weekly that it wasn't true: no records existed of SFPD officers doing anything of the sort.

At the same time, the man whose house had been searched saw the article in SF Weekly and instantly recognized himself as the subject of the story - and finally had a lead on who had searched his house and threatened his family last July. SF Weekly reported,

"They threatened me," he said during an interview at his house. "We don't know anything about it, still, to this day."

Calderón said that at about 6 p.m. six people - four men and two women - wearing badges of some kind showed up at his door. "They said, 'Hey, Sergio, we're from the San Francisco Police Department.'" He said they asked him whether he had been at Cava 22 over the weekend (he had) and told him that they had traced a lost iPhone to his home using GPS.

At no point, he said, did any of the visitors say they were working on behalf of Apple or say they were looking for an iPhone 5 prototype.

Calderón, an American citizen who lives with multiple generations of family members, all of whom he said are staying in the U.S. legally, said one of the men also threatened his relatives about their immigration status. "One of the officers is like, 'Is everyone in this house an American citizen?' They said we were all going to get into trouble.'"

Anxious to cooperate, Calderón said, he let them search his car and house. He also gave them access to his computer, to see whether he had linked the phone to his hard drive or had information about it in his files. Failing to find the phone anywhere, he said one of the "officers" offered him $300 if he would return it.

The six strangers Calderón thought were police officers left a number for him to call if he had information about the lost phone.

SF Weekly called the number and discovered that it was the direct number for Apple employee Anthony "Tony" Colon, who refused to comment.

It was Friday morning. Upon presenting this news to the San Francisco Police Department spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield told SF Weekly that this would definitely need to be investigated, and Calderón needed to contact them directly. Dangerfield seemed alarmed by the news and said, "We take people representing themselves as police officers very seriously."

This led many people to speculate that Apple employees had impersonated San Francisco Police Officers.

It was at this time that Apple's Senior Investigator Anthony Colon - a retired San Jose Police Sergeant of 26 years - took down his LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Of course, every tech site reporting on the matter instantly grabbed copies of both pages from caches.

If you want to see it for yourself, here are SF Weekly's copies of Colon's Facebook page and his LinkedIn page (cache is still here). As an aside, the people Colon had endorsed on LinkedIn were former San Jose PD colleagues Michael Ross and Mikael Niehoff.

But by Friday afternoon SFPD's Lt. Troy Dangerfield then told SF Weekly a completely different story. The Weekly related,

Contradicting past statements that no records exist of police involvement in the search for the lost prototype, San Francisco Police Department spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield now tells SF Weekly that "three or four" SFPD officers accompanied two Apple security officials in an unusual search of a Bernal Heights man's home.

Dangerfield says that, after conferring with Apple and the captain of the Ingleside police station, he has learned that plainclothes SFPD officers went with private Apple detectives to the home of Sergio Calderón, a 22-year-old resident of Bernal Heights. According to Dangerfield, the officers "did not go inside the house," but stood outside while the Apple employees scoured Calderón's home, car, and computer files for any trace of the lost iPhone 5.

(...) "Apple came to us saying that they were looking for a lost item, and some plainclothes officers responded out to the house with them," Dangerfield said. "My understanding is that they stood outside." He added, "They just assisted Apple to the address."

Calderón had told the Weekly that he was under the impression all the people at his house were San Francisco police officers. Only two of the six strangers had searched his house, car and computer.

Calderón stated he would not have let them search his property if he thought they were not police.

By Saturday, the SFPD issued this statement and stopped talking to reporters about the incident.

Rotten Apples In The SFPD?

As a native San Franciscan, I can tell you that at the very least, Apple is getting a level of service out of my police department that is not typically offered to San Francisco residents.

The SFPD denied involvement citing a lack of reports and records, then admitted to assisting Apple. And as of now they have completely clammed up and are referring everyone to the written statement they issued.

Apple, also not commenting on any of it, now happens to now be hiring for two new Product Security Managers.

Think what you will about Apple. I'm a conflicted Apple fangirl. And now, I'm a conflicted SFPD supporter (my mother is the former President of the San Francisco Police Commission). To me, it's the SFPD that has a lot of fessing up to do.

Clearly, communication inside SFPD is broken. The inept way their media relations went down only served to reveal more than they expected; I think we're looking at a bungled case of CYA. Maybe someone forgot to tell their boss something until it hit the press?

So what really happened? Apparently Apple contacted the SFPD for help finding a lost prototype, and their Senior Investigator Anthony "Tony" Colon was the point man. I think that after working for the San Jose Police Department for 26 years, he must know how to really work with police, and as a number of San Jose officers now work for San Francisco PD, he may even see a few friendly faces when he visits us. How nice!

Because the San Francisco officers did not participate in the search, and Apple did not file a police report, there are no records that anyone could request, under say, the Sunshine Act or the Freedom Of Information Act. (Even if the officers were off duty, they would have been required to file a report if they'd performed the search.)

Here's one thing bothering this SF native: I really don't like the idea of my police officers playing private muscle for Apple Inc. Apple isn't part of the SF community other than three retail stores - WWDC aside, they left Macworld at the altar.

So since when does a company from Silicon Valley get to call up a police department in another city, tell them they think someone might have a piece of their property, and get a personal escort and badges to flash to go search a private residence?

To me, fingers need to be pointed at the SFPD. Their jobs are supposed to first and foremost be protecting SF citizens and upholding our rights. Not canoodling with Apple's security wonks.

If the police are going to do this sort of thing with Apple and not tell anyone, we need to be informed who gets this special treatment and who does not. And what the rules are around keeping the "special" businesses within laws and rights that protect the police's first customers: us.

I fear that in this new Apple scandal, my local police have used their presence to enhance grey areas in which corporations can operate just outside the law at the expense of our rights.

No wonder SF's Public Defender and candidate for Mayor Jeff Adachi is leading the charge against police corruption. There are just more questions than answers.

Photo by Ignacio Sagone under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Security, Smartphones

About

Ms. Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com, @violetblue) is a freelance investigative reporter on hacking and cybercrime at Zero Day/ZDNet, CNET and CBS News, as well as a noted sex columnist. She has made regular appearances on CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show and is regularly interviewed, quoted, and featured in a variety of publications that inclu... Full Bio

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