March 8 (UPI) — The FBI used employees of Best Buy’s Geek Squad repair service as paid informants for several years, according to records obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy rights organization.
The documents, obtained by EFF through the Freedom of Information Act, shows the relationship between the FBI and Best Buy going back to at least 2008, when FBI agents in Louisville, Ky., met with Geek Squad employees at a Best Buy facility there.
According to the documents, the agency’s Louisville division “has maintained close liaison with the Geek Squad’s management in an effort to glean case initiations and to support the division’s computer intrusion and cyber crime programs.”
When people sent their computers into Best Buy to be fixed, Geek Squad employees would alert the FBI’s Louisville field office when they believed they found child pornography.
“The FBI agent would show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content,” EFF said. “After that, they would seize the hard drive or computer and send it to another FBI field office near where the owner of the device lived. Agents at that local FBI office would then investigate further, and in some cases try to obtain a warrant to search the device.”
But when people sent their computers in for repairs, they weren’t informed that they were essentially waiving their Fourth Amendment rights and that their device would be subject to a search by a paid FBI informant and then the FBI, EFF says.
Best Buy told NPR that it reports child pornography to law enforcement, required by law in many states. But employees are prohibited from looking for it.
The relationship between the FBI and Best Buy has led to problems in at least one criminal case.
In 2014, a Geek Squad employee found an image he or she believed to be child pornography and alerted the FBI, leading to a raid on a California man’s home and subsequent felony charges. The FBI paid the Geek Squad employee $500 for the find.
But last year, a judge ruled that the image wasn’t child pornography and that the search warrant obtained because of the image was invalid. The charges were then dropped.
EFF accused the FBI of withholding a trove of documents related to the Geek Squad operation and said it plans to challenge the agency to get them released under FOIA.