In yet another example of why the FBI needs to be subjected to a thorough overhaul, documents obtained via a FOIA lawsuit show that the bureau provided money to Best Buy employees to conduct warrantless searches of customer computers.
This stunning disregard for the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution was revealed on Wednesday after the Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained documents showing that “Geek Squad” members of the popular electronics chain were paid to comb through computers that they serviced as stooges for the FBI.
The paying off of Best Buy employees is a deliberate violation of the Fourth Amendment but so are the domestic mass surveillance programs such as the ones exposed by Edward Snowden that everyone has forgotten about.
— CNET (@CNET) March 8, 2018
FBI agents paid employees in Best Buy’s Geek Squad unit to act as informants, documents published Tuesday reveal.
Agents paid managers in the retailer’s device repair unit to pass along information about illegal content discovered on customers’ devices, according to documents posted online by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The digital rights group sued the FBI for the documents last year after the bureau denied a Freedom of Information Act request.
The EFF filed the lawsuit to learn the extent to which the agency trains and directs Best Buy Geek Squad employees to conduct warrantless searches of customers’ devices during maintenance. The EFF said it was concerned that use of repair technicians to root out evidence of criminal behavior circumvents people’s constitutional rights.
What the EFF found was that the agency’s relationship with Geek Squad employees goes back at least a decade. An FBI memo from 2008 describes a meeting between Best Buy employees and the agency’s “Cyber Working Group” at the company’s Kentucky repair facility.
The memo describes how Best Buy employees gave agents a tour of the facility and went on to say the bureau’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.”
While the searches were ostensibly done to detect child pornography they could conceivably extend into reporting content that could be deemed to be politically subversive according to the government.
During the time of the searches that government was run by Barack Obama who vastly expanded the surveillance state and weaponized federal agencies like the FBI, DOJ, and IRS against his political enemies.
It is unclear whether the FBI is continuing this practice and if employees of other corporations have been similarly paid off in an end run around the courts but given what we know of the politicization of what is becoming a lawless Gestapo, it’s probably a pretty good bet that it is.
We've received documents that confirm:
– Best Buy gave the FBI a tour of their repair facility
– The FBI paid Geek Squad employees as informants
– FBI agents have a process for investigating & prosecuting people who sent their devices to the Geek Squadhttps://t.co/FI9aTlmvs6
— EFF (@EFF) March 6, 2018
According to the EFF “Geek Squad’s Relationship with FBI Is Cozier Than We Thought”:
EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit last year to learn more about how the FBI uses Geek Squad employees to flag illegal material when people pay Best Buy to repair their computers. The relationship potentially circumvents computer owners’ Fourth Amendment rights.
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.”
Another document records a $500 payment from the FBI to a confidential Geek Squad informant. This appears to be one of the same payments at issue in the prosecution of Mark Rettenmaier, the California doctor who was charged with possession of child pornography after Best Buy sent his computer to the Kentucky Geek Squad repair facility.
Other documents show that over the years of working with Geek Squad employees, FBI agents developed a process for investigating and prosecuting people who sent their devices to the Geek Squad for repairs. The documents detail a series of FBI investigations in which a Geek Squad employee would call the FBI’s Louisville field office after finding what they believed was child pornography.
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.
And who was in charge of the FBI back when this program began? Does the name Robert Mueller ring a bell?Subscribe to our Morning Briefing and get the news delivered to your inbox before breakfast!