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Documents Reveal FBI Secretly Relied on Geek Squad Informants to Spy on Americans

The relationship was disclosed via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed last year,

Documents Reveal FBI Secretly Relied on Geek Squad Informants to Spy on Americans
Photo Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Geek Squad, Best Buy's in-house technical support subsidiary, has been secretly working with the FBI to spy on Americans.

Newly released documents that the FBI relied on Best Buy's Geek Squad to provide them with customers' suspected illegal activity.

One of the main priorities of the FBI was to track down producers, viewers, and distributors of child pornography.

In one instance, the FBI seized the computer of a customer who brought their device into a Best Buy store for repairs. Geek Squad technicians discovered a cache of child pornography and the FBI immediately became involved.

In 2017, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to protect civil liberties, filed an FoA lawsuit claiming that the relationship between the FBI and Geek Squad violated customer's Fourth Amendment rights against warrant-less searches. "At no point did the FBI get warrants based on probable cause before Geek Squad informants conducted these searches," EFF alleges in their lawsuit. "Nor are these cases the result of Best Buy employees happening across potential illegal content on a device and alerting authorities."

According to EFF, the FBI would "show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content," based solely on the word of Geek Squad technicians. EFF's lawsuit showed that the FBI had been paying at least eight Geek Squad "informants" for at least a decade.

The FBI initially denied EFF's FoA request, including an outright denial of the relationship. The Department of Justice's refusal to comply compelled EFF to file their lawsuit. "The FBI denied the request, saying it doesn't confirm or deny that it has records that would reveal whether a person or organization is under investigation," EFF explains on their website. We filed suit after the Department of Justice failed to respond to our administrative appeal of the FBI's initial denial."

Best Buy issued a statement earlier this month explaining their side of the story.

"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," Best Buy said. "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."

Was Best Buy right to establish this relationship? At the very least, it's a legal and ethical grey area.