The FBI may be using Best Buy employees to spy on people. That's the allegation in a new lawsuit seeking information on the FBI's relationship with Best Buy's "Geek Squad" employees who are tasked with repairing computers and personal electronic devices. The suit was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), after evidence came to light in recent years that the FBI may be training and paying some Best Buy employees to find illegal content on people's computers. "What we're trying to understand is how the FBI has used the Geek Squad to potentially search people's devices when they send them out for repair," says Aaron Mackey, an attorney with the EFF.
The allegations first came to light in a court case surrounding a California doctor who was arrested in 2011 after child porn was allegedly found on his computer by a Best Buy employee while the computer was in for service. The EFF has since learned that Best Buy admitted at least eight of its employees were paid by the FBI. "We think that scheme potentially violates the Fourth Amendment, to the extent that the FBI is actually directing their informants to search those devices," says Mackey.
Mackey tells KTRH the issue isn't the FBI catching child pornography offenders or protecting children from exploitation, but rather the agency surreptitiously using repair workers to conduct searches of people's computers without probable cause or a search warrant, which violates the Constitution. "It looks like the Geek Squad informants were affirmatively searching the entire device," he says. "They were basically looking for illegal behavior rather than trying to fix a computer and finding something by happenstance."
While overall expectation of privacy has eroded greatly in the digital era, Mackey believes people still have a right to know if their computer repair tech is being paid and trained by the FBI. "I think that transfers them from being just a private repair person to someone who's actually an agent for the government," he says. "And that's where the Fourth Amendment comes into play, and would require that a warrant be issued before they could execute a search on those devices."