It is supposed to work on crime in the high-tech business, primarily those involving fraud, piracy and identity theft – crimes that rarely require riot troops to break down many doors.
"It's the iPolice," according to Steve Meister, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney quoted in a Los Angeles Times story investigating the unit and concerns that it operates without much law-enforcement oversight. "This whole thing appears, rightly or wrongly, to be law enforcement doing the bidding of a private company."
Chen and Gizmodo did know that the phone belonged to Apple and had been lost.
Steve Jobs called Nick Denton, CEO of Gizmodo owner Gawker Media to ask that the phone be sent back.
Gizmodo wrote about how it got the prototype wonderingly, noting both Apple's "(Almost) impenetrable security" and "how ferocious and ruthless Apple is about product leaks."
That last bit is a reference to Apple's Worldwide Loyalty Team, a kind of Apple corporate secret police, whose job it is to spy on Apple employees and partners and hunt down those who might be leaking information Apple would prefer not be leaked.
They swoop down on suspected leakers, shut down their access, copy out and go through every file and every reference in their phones and computers looking for evidence, go through desks and forbid employees to talk about the humiliation or invasion of privacy on pain of being fired.
They have no power outside Apple, however, so Apple's chief lawyer wrote a letter asking that the phone be returned.
Despite Apple pressure, Gizmodo had plenty of time
Eventually it was. Gizmodo editor (at the time) Brian Lam wrote April 19, 2010 about how and why Gizmodo returned the phone, though they beat the legal deadline by 35 months: