Last May, the defense in a child pornography trial alleged that the FBI used a member of electronics retailer Best Buy’s tech support team, Geek Squad, to peer into the accused’s computer on the hunt for evidence of child pornography. Since then, the defense’s lawyers revealed that the FBI had cultivated at least eight of the company’s IT handyfolk over a four-year period to serve as confidential informants, who all received some payment for turning over data. Obviously, this raises serious questions about whether sending devices into the repair shop forfeits a person’s right to privacy or unreasonable search and seizure.
The eight Geek Squad members in question worked in the tech support branch’s repair center in Brooks, Kentucky, servicing items sent in from all over the country. Technically, users sign consent to search over to Best Buy when they hand their devices over to get fixed. This includes fine print indicating that any evidence of child pornography would require the company to hand the device over to authorities.
But if the FBI paid each of its informants to pass along evidence they’d acquired in the course of their normal job, and plan to keep doing so in future cases, wouldn’t that make Best Buy’s employees functional agents of the bureau? A federal judge is allowing the case’s defense attorneys to explore that relationship between company and government which functionally allowed the FBI to bypass the need for a warrant or acquire specific consent to search. On the first day of the inquiry, an FBI agent’s testimony cast doubt on whether the initial image found by the Geek Squad member and informant technically qualified as child pornography to warrant bureau action.
Best Buy released a statement commenting on company policy and the case at hand:
"Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI. From time to time, our repair agents discover material that may be child pornography, and we have a legal and moral obligation to turn that material over to law enforcement. We are proud of our policy and share it with our customers before we begin any repair.
"Any circumstances in which an employee received payment from the FBI is the result of extremely poor individual judgment, is not something we tolerate and is certainly not a part of our normal business behavior.
"To be clear, our agents unintentionally find child pornography as they try to make the repairs the customer is paying for. They are not looking for it. Our policies prohibit agents from doing anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer’s problem so that we can maintain their privacy and keep up with the volume of repairs."