FBI hired Geek Squad techs to spy on Best Buy customers

FBI hired Geek Squad techs to spy on Best Buy customers
Best Buy says some Geek Squad employees may have received payment from the FBI in exchange for alleged child porn found on customers' devices. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

For over a decade, the FBI has been using Best Buy’s Geek Squad workers as confidential human sources, according to documents released Wednesday.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained FBI records relating to the agency’s Geek Squad ties through a FOIA lawsuit. EFF contends that such a relationship could mean law enforcement is conducting warrantless searches of Best Buy customers’ computers, circumventing the owners’ Fourth Amendment rights.

Best Buy admitted in a statement to PCMag that four of its employees “may have” accepted payments from the FBI in exchange for evidence of possible child porn from customers’ devices. The company wrote that “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.”

The FBI did not provide comment on the issue to PCMag, and refused to confirm or deny agreements with Geek Squad team members to EFF.

Last year, the Geek Squad’s role in crime fighting was revealed in the case of Mark Rettenmaier in California. Rettenmaier was slapped with federal possession of child pornography charges after bringing his computer to Best Buy for repair. His attorneys discovered eight Geek Squad technicians who acted as paid informants for the FBI over the course of four years.

In response to the case, Best Buy released a statement claiming that “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 repair.”

The company says that roughly 100 times a year, technicians inadvertently find suspected child porn on customer devices.

While Best Buy insists their employees are prohibited from searching customer devices beyond “what is necessary to solve the customer’s problem,” EFF points to the Rettenmaier case as evidence that some Geek Squad workers were incentivized by law enforcement to gather further information.

In a post on the EFF website, the organization said “the image found on Rettenmaier’s hard drive was in an unallocated space, which typically requires forensic software to find. Geek Squad employees were financially rewarded for finding child pornography. Such a bounty would likely encourage Geek Squad employees to actively sweep for suspicious content.”