Here’s what happened in a California child pornography case when a client’s defense team claimed that the FBI turned Geek Squad workers at Best Buy into informants to collect evidence condemning the pedophile in question. At the time, Best Buy denied that their computers techs were collaborating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation by being paid to fork over customer data. The FBI also denied their collaboration with Geek Squad team members.
But as it turns out, not only were they paid to snoop on the customer in question’s hard drives, but the Best Buy tech repair business has been collaborating with the agency for over 10 years, scanning hard drives and giving the skinny on customer data. The FBI has been paying and using Best Buy Geek Squad employees to flag and turn over illegal content that they find on devices while doing repairs.
It’s not just that the tech problem solvers were alerting the FBI as to the contents of their customers’ hard drives, but their involvement was a lot bigger than previously thought.The Geek Squad repair facility in Kentucky welcomed FBI agents with open arms, giving a tour of the premises. In fact, they’ve worked together so much that they have their own process worked out for reporting any type of activity that is suspicious.
For example: if a Geek Squad employee is scanning a user’s hard drive and then discovers content that looks like it could be of an illegal nature, like child pornography, then they are obligated to call the FBI. A Federal Agent is then assigned to inspect the hard drive, and if those suspicions are confirmed, the FBI seizes the drive, which is then sent to a facility owned by the Feds that is in the nearest proximity of the hard drive’s owner. Then, a more thorough investigation is conducted. Search warrants of the accused’s home can be procured and they may have a Fed knocking on their door – all because of a blue screen of death.
The FBI has labeled Geek Squad employees it utilizes in child pornography cases as “informants,” but it seems to be a vague definition of their roles. Some documents in the EFF’s findings suggest that Geek Squad employees go above and beyond the duties of a typical informant for the FBI. Plus, there’s the fact that government agency is consistently paying employees for their work catching pedophiles. In one instance, a worker was given $500 for their cooperation.
So what’s the big deal? Pedophiles are being locked up, good guys win bad guys lose, right? Well, there’s the funny little business of the fourth amendment being possibly violated if Geek Squad employees are happy go lucky taking everyone’s hard drives and scanning them in the hopes of finding any questionable content so they can make some extra money from the FBI. The EFF’s got a big problem with that and is now trying to get the FBI to hand over the other documents they requested to see whether or not Geek Squad employees are being encouraged to break the law and violate citizens’ rights for a payout.
It also bears repeating that both the FBI and Geek Squad initially lied about their involvement in one another’s business. Now it could be because they don’t want pedophiles to not take their computers to Best Buys to get them fixed – if they’ve got a method of catching criminals, then why mess it up? But they could have also lied about their working relationship because it might not exactly be kosher. And if that’s the case, then there’s probably a reason they’re being tight-lipped about the whole thing. It doesn’t help either that the FBI will neither confirm nor deny if it works with similar computer-repair retailers.