Who needs probable cause when you have geeks?
That appears to be the thinking of the FBI, which has been working with Best Buy’s computer repair service Geek Squad for at least a decade. And we’re not talking about geeks fixing Bureau computers.
Instead, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the law enforcement agency has paid Geek Squad employees to act as informants and report potentially illegal content found on customers’ computers. What’s more, in at least one case it appeared that an employee may have proactively searched a computer for suspicious content — as opposed to just reporting what he or she inadvertently stumbled across.
Notably, the same documents — obtained via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit — suggest that the FBI does not straight-up instruct Geek Squad employees to perform these searches. However, as the EFF writes, documents show that the employees received financial rewards for finding child pornography on customer machines. This, of course, could incentivize those searches.
The relationship between the FBI and the geeks goes back to at least 2008, and has previously been the focus of media attention. In 2017 the Washington Post reported on the case of a Geek Squad employee finding suspicious material on a surgeon’s computer, and turning that information over the FBI. That led to a raid and the discovery of “thousands of images of child pornography.”
At the time, Best Buy confirmed to the paper that its Geek Squad employees “inadvertently discover” similar material on computers around 100 times a year — but denied that those employees were actively seeking it out.
“As a company, we have not sought or received training from law enforcement in how to search for child pornography,” the statement read in part. “Our policies prohibit employees from doing anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer’s problem.”
However, the documents obtained by the EFF show that Best Buy played host to the FBI’s Cyber Working Group at a company repair facility. So take that for what you will.
While much ambiguity remains in just how closely Best Buy and Geek Squad work with the FBI and in what exact capacity, it is clear that if you’re doing illegal stuff on your computer your best bet isn’t sending it off to the Geeks for repair.
And, in the end, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the Geek Squad is narcing out its customers — after all, have you seen its commercials? The actors have badges.