Letting a company like Best Buy fiddle with your computer in the hopes of fixing a defect or perform a repair is already a huge exercise in trust. You trust that the technician working on your machine won’t go poking around in places he or she has no business in, and that your privacy will be respected. Newly unsealed court documents suggest that Best Buy has seriously broken that trust, and secretly teamed with the FBI to perform completely warrantless searches of customer computers with zero probably cause or reason to do so.
As OC Weekly reports, the documents in question apply to Unites States of America vs. Mark Rettenmaier, a child pornography case in which the illegal content was discovered by a Best Buy Geek Squad technician who then reported it to the FBI. Both the FBI and Best Buy have repeatedly claimed that they deliberately search customer devices for any type of material, but many of the recently unsealed FBI filings completely contradict those claims.
The documents show the FBI remaining in close and regular contact with a Geek Squad supervisor named Justin Meade. The agency notes in its filings that Meade was continually providing the FBI with “valuable information” and “local collection” of material that was found on customer computers. The FBI notes in the memos that it planned to have agents meet with Meade regularly “to ensure he is reporting” on customers.
Most damning, the company at the very least discussed — and potentially developed — an application specifically to root through customer hardware in the search for illegal material. The filings suggest that at least some Geek Squad members were performing tasks “under the direction and control of the FBI.”
The problem with all of this is of course that there’s no way to just see illegal material when snooping through a customer’s computer. Without probable cause it is illegal to search a device in the hopes of determining whether or not the owner is a criminal, and absolutely outside the bounds of what someone would reasonably expect a Best Buy employee to be doing. Best Buy’s official statement came in January, where the company said “Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI,” so it’ll be interesting to see how or if the message changes now that everything is out in the open.