Is Best Buy an arm of the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
How far can a computer repair company go in ferreting out child porn on the computers it repairs for its customers?
That's a question Best Buy Geek Squad technicians are facing. Allegedly, some of the techs have received remuneration as paid informants of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their work identifying signs of child pornography on customers' computers.
A physician on the West Coast was charged with possession of child porn when his device's hard drive got flagged by a Geek Squad tech. The man's attorney discovered that the FBI developed eight "confidential human sources" from the Geek Squad's ranks. All were paid for their contributions in identifying suspected porn images.
Customers authorize Best Buy techs to search their computers, usually by signing this release: "I am on notice that any product containing child pornography will be turned over to the authorities."
The transactional relationship between the federal agency and some Geek Squad members is a cause for alarm. Are private business employees considered government agents in these circumstances? How might this affect a customer's Fourth Amendment rights and their right to privacy?
When the FBI seizes computers to do forensic searches, agents have warrants. However, this quasi-relationship between the agency and the Geek Squad techs allows for this crucial process to be sidestepped.
In the West Coast case, the oncologist took his desktop computer to Best Buy when it would no longer boot up. After being told the hard drive was defective, he was informed that if he wanted techs to attempt data recovery, it would need to be shipped to Kentucky for servicing.
The tech involved in the case emailed the FBI agent, asking, "We have another one out of California we want you to take a look at, when can you swing by?" He received a $500 payment from the FBI, although he declared in a sworn statement that he had no memory of it.
Another problem in the case include the fact that the alleged photo of child porn was found on the hard drive's "unallocated space," the location where deleted files remain until being overwritten for space necessities. To get to unallocated space on a computer, forensic — not diagnostic — software is needed. That far exceeds the data recovery services that the tech was contracted to perform.
If you face charges in a similar case, launch a robust defense to the charges.