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Apple wins first round of 'secret' war

Online hack scare

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Apple has secured a victory of sorts in its quest to force three, popular product news sites to turnover their sources.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg this week handed out a preliminary ruling that said online news outlets don't enjoy the same protections as more traditional publishers with regard to keeping the identity of sources secret. The judge, however, did agree to delay a final ruling on the matter after lawyers from Apple and the EFF argued the case on Friday.

"EFF lawyers, along with co-counsel Thomas Moore III and Richard Wiebe, argued this morning that these online reporters' confidential sources and unpublished material are protected by both the reporter's shield in the California constitution and the reporter's privilege under the federal First Amendment," the EFF said.

"The court was interested in the question of whether online reporters are legitimate journalists, but for most of the hearing, the judge assumed that they were journalists and examined whether the reporter's shield should apply in this case. Under the First Amendment, the reporter's privilege is qualified -- it does not protect reporters under all circumstances. But subpoenas to journalists are always a last resort. The hearing examined whether Apple had overcome this qualified privilege to demonstrate that its need for the information was greater than the need to protect the confidentiality of these journalists' sources."

The EFF is representing Apple Insider and PowerPage - two of the sites subpoenaed by Apple. Think Secret is also involved in the matter.

Apple will no doubt be pleased by this preliminary ruling that could lead to online news sites being stripped of what would seem like basic protections. The victory, however, comes with a cost, as Apple is taking a public relations hit from the whole affair. Going after fan sites isn't the most popular thing to do.

Many self-loathing Mac fans continue to take Apple's side, saying the company has every right to try and protect its "trade secrets." But these are the type of people that cheer when Apple releases products without monitors, screens or functions. ®

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