Not clear cut
Not all that clear cut, the finder, and rag (gizmodo) seem to have done several things right, and several wrong.
1) Someone leaves a phone in a bar, it happens. A lot.
2) Someone picks up phone and waits to see if owner returns
3) Finder leaves with phone (Doesn't leave phone with bar, or his contact info - sounds weird)
4) Finder takes phone home and plays with it for a bit.
WTF - this is someone else’s private property - why are you doing 'playing' with it this is not your toy. Search contacts for 'Home', 'Work' or 'ICE' numbers sure - but randomly playing with it inc the camera??? Unacceptable
5) Finder (while playing) finds facebook contact info, but doesn't contact apparent owner.
6) Phone is remotely wiped, meaning it has been reported missing/stolen.
7) Finder thinks it looks odd so opens the case - Now this is blatant criminal damage.
8) Finder starts to call Apple, no response. He seems to have deduced that this is some kind of prototype, hence the owner would be Apple, not the guy apparently field testing it - Fair enough, and Apple support not knowing about a prototype - again fair enough, (but still that is Apples problem, if this is the official way of contacting Apple, then their internal procedures are up to them) but if you have his facebook info surely that would be a quicker way of returning it.
9) Finder sells phone to online rag. What the hell are you thinking (other than $$$). The only way I can conceive of this being remotely acceptable is to *give* them the device as long as they give you a written guarantee they will attempt to return it to its rightful owner (They seem to be a niche Apple rag so its reasonable to expect them to have contacts within Apple) and then sell them an interview.
10) Rag contacts Apple, rips apart, sorry, 'documents' the device.
11) Rag publishes; Reg commentards foam at the mouth.
12) Apple responds requesting the return of said device.
13) Presumably rag returns device?
14) Police raid journalist and seize equipment (possibly illegally)
(All of this is sourced from gizmodo, so take it as you will)
As far as I can see, if the Rag was given the phone (but probably not paid for it) then they would be fine, as they can adequatly demonstrate they have identified and notified the owner. But paying for it seem dodgy, saying that there are all sorts of special laws to protect journalists and their sources and IANAL.
Or is this another case of the public being interested vs. in the public interest?