It’s been alleged that Geek Squad may have been recruited by the FBI to gather evidence for them, a claim that Best Buy has denied. A new EFF report sheds light on new information that indeed shows that Geek Squad has been in cahoots with the FBI and snooping through computers entrusted to them to be repaired.
The prosecution of a California doctor raised suspicion when the defense accused the FBI of using the Best Buy team of IT technicians to gather evidence for them and rewarding them for their efforts. The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) acquired new documents that show the relationship between to the two entities goes back years and the tech was paid as “informants”.
Last year the EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to learn exactly how this deal between the Feds and Geek Squad worked. The documents released to the EFF thanks to the FOIA suit revealed a relationship between Best Buy and the FBI that dates all the way back to 2008. An FBI Memo form 2008 describes a meeting between “Cyber Working Group” and Geek Squad at their Kentucky repair facility where they even gave them a tour before the meeting took place.
Another memo puts the focus on a $500 payment to a confidential Geek Squad “informant” which is reportedly one of the payments linked to the case that sparked the EFF to file the suit. The documents acquired by the EFF also shed light on the process FBI agents developed to investigate and prosecute customers who drop off their computers or hard drives for repairs with Geek Squad techs over the years. The employee would contact the FBI’s Louisville field office when they believe they found child pornography.
Here is how the EFF breaks down the process:
“The FBI agent would show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content. 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. “
Now the cause is noble but where this becomes a slippery slope is the process might be violating the owners of the devices dropped off for repairs Fourth Amendment Rights. The information used in the California doctor’s child pornography case was found in an unallocated space. That means the techs had to do some serious digging and went the extra mile to find that information. The FBI does not direct employees to actively seek out that content.
The problem is Geek Squad employees could probably be actively going through customers files with the sole purpose of finding illegal content for the reward. Now while the FBI’s intentions may have been noble they could have opened a big can of worms here. Could the FBI be using more companies for this practice as well? We don’t blame folks for being wary now and worrying about big brother after this report. Do you believe the FBI is doing too much? Sound off in the comments below.
Photo by Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images