For over a decade, the FBI had been paying employees of Best Buy's Geek Squad to pass on information about illegal materials on customer devices sent in for repair, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information lawsuit filed last year.
At no point did the FBI get warrants based on probable cause before Geek Squad informants conducted these searches. Nor are these cases the result of Best Buy employees happening across potential illegal content on a device and alerting authorities. -EFF.org
Records posted Tuesday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation reveal that federal agents from the FBI's Louisville division had been paying Geek Squad informants for information that might kick off investigations related to their "Computer Intrusion and Cyber Crime" program, according to the documents.
The documents released to EFF show that Best Buy officials have enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the agency for at least 10 years. For example, an FBI memo from September 2008 details how Best Buy hosted a meeting of the agency’s “Cyber Working Group” at the company’s Kentucky repair facility.
The memo and a related email show that Geek Squad employees also gave FBI officials a tour of the facility before their meeting and makes clear that the law enforcement 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.” -EFF
Another document details a $500 payment from the FBI to a Geek Squad informant, which appears to be directly related to the FBI's prosecution of California doctor Mark Rettenmaier, who was charged with possession of child pornography after Best Buy sent his computer to a repair facility in Kentucky.
BREAKING REPORT: FBI paid Geek Squad employees to be informants, according to newly released documents by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The agency's relationship with staff in the Best Buy repair unit goes back at least a decade. Read Docs here: https://t.co/t2dd6aCDrI pic.twitter.com/yUsQdvy7sM— The Anon Journal (@TheAnonJournal) March 7, 2018
After several years of coordinating efforts, the FBI developed a process for following up on Geek Squad leads. After an employee had identified material thought to be illegal, the FBI would show up, review the suspected content, seize the computer or hard drive, and send it to another FBI field office close to where the owner of the device lived. From that point, field agents would then investigate further, and in some cases, attempt to obtain a warrant to search the device (after the device had been searched).
Some of these reports indicate that the FBI treated Geek Squad employees as informants, identifying them as “CHS,” which is shorthand for confidential human sources. In other cases, the FBI identifies the initial calls as coming from Best Buy employees, raising questions as to whether certain employees had different relationships with the FBI.
In the case of the investigation into Rettenmaier’s computers, the documents released to EFF do not appear to have been made public in that prosecution. These raise additional questions about the level of cooperation between the company and law enforcement. -EFF
After CBS Security editor Zack Whittaker contacted Best Buy, they offered this lengthy reply:
"As we said more than a year ago, our Geek Squad repair employees discover what appears to be child pornography on customers' computers nearly 100 times a year. Our employees do not search for this material; they inadvertently discover it when attempting to confirm we have recovered lost customer data.
We have a moral and, in more than 20 states, a legal obligation to report these findings to law enforcement. We share this policy with our customers in writing before we begin any repair.
As a company, we have not sought or received training from law enforcement in how to search for child pornography. Our policies prohibit employees from doing anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer's problem. In the wake of these allegations, we have redoubled our efforts to train employees on what to do -- and not do -- in these circumstances.
We have learned 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."
folks finally realized Geek Squad is the feds?— de bleck penta (@fivefifths) March 7, 2018
For at least a decade, the FBI has been paying Geek Squad employees at Best Buy to turn over illegal content found on customer devices during repair work. pic.twitter.com/oP5d0ja7OK— AJ+ (@ajplus) March 7, 2018
So I just learned this. Best Buy's Geek Squad has been sending the FBI their customer's computer Data....I suggest we boycott Best Buy and geek squad. Makes me wonder if they had a warrant to do this or not. #corruptFBI #boycottBestBuy #boycottgeeksquad— Takura (@TakuraSama) March 8, 2018