EFF: FBI Paid Geek Squad Employees as Informants

The FBI paid Geek Squad employees as informants, potentially infringing the constitutional rights of device owners, according to new documents.

Rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit last year to find out more about the relationship between the DoJ and the popular computer repair business.

Documents it released on Tuesday reveal that the relationship has been ongoing for at least a decade.

One FBI memo from 2008 details how 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.”

The documents go on to show that Geek Squad employees would contact the FBI’s Louisville field office if they found what they believed to be child pornography, according to the EFF.

“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,” the group said.

The FOI lawsuit was filed after a case in which a Californian doctor was hit with child porn charges after his computer was sent to Geek Squad for repairs.

EFF is concerned that if Geek Squad employees are actively searching for illegally material as informants, this could violate customers’ Fourth Amendment protections from unwarranted searches.

The image found on the Californian doctors’ hard drive was in “unallocated space,” which typically requires forensic software to search, hinting that the employees were looking for illicit content, EFF claimed.

“Other evidence showed that Geek Squad employees were financially rewarded for finding child pornography,” it added. “Such a bounty would likely encourage Geek Squad employees to actively sweep for suspicious content.”

One document apparently confirms a $500 payment from the FBI to a confidential Geek Squad informant.

A statement from Geek Squad owner Best Buy claimed that employees do not search for illegal material but find it “inadvertently.”

However, it did admit that four employees “may have received payment after turning over alleged child pornography to the FBI.”

“Any decision to accept payment was in very poor judgement and inconsistent with our training and policies. Three of these employees are no longer with the company and the fourth has been reprimanded and reassigned," it continued.

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