Documents suggest some Best Buy Geek Squad employees were paid to inform by FBI

For some time, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been investigating an alleged relationship between the FBI and Best Buy’s Geek Squad repair service. According to the EFF, the FBI has been working with Geek Squad employees to gain access to incriminating information present on the PCs of Best Buy customers. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit, the EFF has uncovered new information it says supports its allegations.

The information implies a relationship between the FBI and employees of Best Buy’s Geek Squad that could be even “cozier” than the EFF originally suspected, according to a recent blog post by the EFF. A number of documents were released under the FOIA request, which can be viewed here and here, describe a very close relationship that involves the FBI allegedly paying Geek Squad staff as informants and could potentially be a violation of PC owners’ Fourth Amendment rights.

In one example, the EFF believes that Geek Squad technicians were paid by the FBI to act as informants, and that such payments were made as part of the investigation into Dr. Mark Rettenmaier, who was charged with possession of child pornography. The image in question in that case was apparently discovered by the Geek Squad on unallocated space on Rettenmaier’s hard drive, a process that usually involves forensic software and wouldn’t normally result from typical data recovery processes. Ultimately, the judge in Rettenmaier’s case threw out this evidence due to “false and misleading statements” by the FBI, as the Los Angeles Times reports, and his case was dismissed.

According to the EFF, the new evidence indicates that the FBI’s alleged payments to Geek Squad employees to dig into customer hard drives for potentially incriminating evidence represents a potential Fourth Amendment violation. Some documents indicate that the FBI is notified only when illegal materials are discovered as a normal part of a data recovery process, and going beyond that process to find incriminating evidence would usually require a warrant.

Apparently, FBI agents would visit the Best Buy repair facility in Kentucky to view images and other information that was discovered by a Geek Squad technician. If there was evidence of a crime, then the FBI agent would remove the equipment and ship it off to the FBI office near the customer’s location. Then a warrant would sometimes be obtained in order to investigate further. The important distinction is whether the Geek Squad employee discovered the incriminating evidence while performing the contracted services or, perhaps induced by an FBI bounty, went beyond those services to “actively sweep for suspicious content.”

For its part, Best Buy disputes the EFF’s allegations of a formal relationship between the company and the FBI. In a statement to ZDNet, Best Buy said:

“As a company, we have not sought or received training from law enforcement in how to search for child pornography. Our policies prohibit employees from doing anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer’s problem. In the wake of these allegations, we have redoubled our efforts to train employees on what to do — and not do — in these circumstances. We have learned that four employees may have received payment after turning over alleged child pornography to the FBI. Any decision to accept payment was in very poor judgment and inconsistent with our training and policies. Three of these employees are no longer with the company and the fourth has been reprimanded and reassigned.”

The EFF will contin ue to seek to gain access to information that the FBI has so far withheld despite its FOIA suit filed in 2017. Open questions include whether or not the FBI has similar relationships with other companies, and whether it has procedures or training in place on how its agents gather information from computer repair services.

Cars

Nvidia’s new simulator brings virtual learning to autonomous vehicle developers

Nvidia introduced a simulator for testing autonomous vehicle technologies. Drive Constellation is a cloud-based platform technology vendors can use to validate systems efficiently, safely, and much faster than with vehicles on real roads.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Photography

Paper designs digitize in real time using an Illustrator-connected paper tablet

Love graphic design, but prefer the feel of real paper? The new Moleskine Paper Tablet - Creative Cloud Connected syncs with Adobe Illustrator in real time, turning paper sketches into digital drawings.
Product Review

4K and 144Hz? Yup, the Acer Predator XB3 will max out your gaming PC

The Predator XB3 isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you have a system that can push over 100 frames per second in 4K screen resolution, this monster of a monitor might be the perfect match for your overpowered gaming rig.
Computing

Make the most of your toner with our five favorite color laser printers

Color laser printers have improved dramatically over the years, and today's models offer both blazing print speeds and great image quality. Here are our favorite color laser printers, from massive all-in-ones to smaller budget options.
Computing

Firefox 66 is here and it will soon block irritating autoplay videos

Do web advertisements have you frustrated? Mozilla is here to help. The latest version of the browser will soon block autoplaying videos by default and will also help make web page scrolling smoother.
Computing

USB4 will be the fastest and most uniform USB standard yet

USB4 is on the horizon and alongside a massive boost in speed it's also unifying with the Thunderbolt 3 standard to help finally create a singular wired connection protocol that all devices can enjoy.
Computing

The U.S. government plans to drop $500M on a ridiculously powerful supercomputer

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced plans to build a $500 million exascale supercomputer by 2021. The project, known as the Aurora supercomputer, is expected to boost research efforts in fields such as public health.
Buying Guides

Apple has powered up its iMac lineup, but which one should you opt for?

With new processors and graphics cards for both the 4K and 5K models, the iMac feels like a good option for creatives again. But which should you buy? Here's our guide to choosing the right Apple all-in-one for your needs.
Computing

HP spring sale: Save up to 58 percent on laptops, desktops, printers, and more

From now until March 23, the HP spring sale lets you take as much as 58 percent off of a huge range of laptops, desktop PCs, printers, and more, potentially saving you more than $1,000. We’ve rounded up a dozen of the best deals right…
Computing

Yes, Apple’s new iMacs look great, but they do have one glaring problem

With processors ranging up to the eight-core Core i9, the 2019 iMac update looks like a pretty solid upgrade to Apple's classic all-in-one. But hidden in the details of the product page, there's one outdated component Apple is holding onto.