Among the other companies listed as on the steering committee in a 2008 document were Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., EBay, Palm Inc., and Oracle Corp.
Several current and former REACT officials said the steering committee meetings are largely a forum for companies and the task force to discuss about trends they're seeing in high-tech crime.
This is not the first time that ties between private industry and law enforcement — whether real or perceived — have drawn attention.
Public defenders have criticized prosecutors for accepting tens of millions of dollars every year from the California Department of Insurance. The grants, funded largely by fees paid by insurance companies, are earmarked for fighting insurance fraud.
In gambling states, some police and prosecutors have tracked down thousands of gamblers who failed to pay their debts to major casinos with a fervor that legal scholars have said borders on misuse of the justice system.
In the 1990s, many technology companies around the country helped pay for equipment and personnel in police departments that couldn't afford to fund their own tech crimes outfit.
In one example, Intel Corp. presented the police department in Hillsboro, Ore., with a $100,000 donation to fund the salary and expenses of one officer on the seven-person computer crimes team. Over a five-year period ending in 1999, about 40% of that team's cases involved Intel in some way.
REACT officials said the task force does not accept any funds or equipment from technology companies. But the REACT website says the industry councils and companies "provide specialized training, liaison personnel and internal support for task force investigations."
Joseph D. McNamara, who was police chief in San Jose for 15 years and is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution, said the links between law enforcement and industry are more subtle than outright string-pulling. To learn how to catch high-tech criminals, he said, law enforcement agencies often have little choice but to seek help from the companies that create and sell the technology with which many of the crimes are committed.
It's that connection, McNamara said, that "could create a dependency and a kind of low-visibility relationship where law enforcement have to rely on industry expertise."
The task force's priorities, then, "could consciously or unconsciously be shaped by companies with a vested interest."
In the case of the missing iPhone, law enforcement officials say it required special attention because the device was no ordinary cellphone. The prototype included features that Apple has guarded zealously and which it probably believes give it a competitive advantage over its rivals. Chen's editor said Gizmodo paid $5,000 to a man who claimed to have found it at a beer garden in Redwood City, Calif.
But when officers raided Chen's house they were not actually looking for the wayward phone. Apple had already picked up the device from Chen's home four days earlier.
REACT was called in anyway. Chen was not home at the time, so the investigators broke down his door and hauled away several computers, hard drives and boxes of documents. Investigators said they were looking for evidence related to the theft of a phone.
Gizmodo is challenging the search warrant, saying it violates shield laws protecting reporters from search and seizure without a subpoena. Bloggers, like traditional journalists, also have certain special protections under state and federal law. Investigators said they are holding off examining the seized equipment until the dispute is resolved.