FBI allegedly paid KY Best Buy Geek Squad to find child porn

The Geek Squad is the part of Best Buy focused on fixing technology, like laptops

Computer


LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – New legal documents show the FBI paid Best Buy Geek Squad employees at its central U.S. hub in Brooks, Ky., to inform them of child pornography found on computers.

The Geek Squad is the part of Best Buy focused on fixing technology, like laptops.

The filing is part of a case in California where a man named Mark Rettenmaier took his computer to Best Buy because it wouldn’t start. The laptop was sent to the Brooks facility, where the court filing says employees told him his hard drive was bad and employees would need to perform a data recovery operation. As part of that effort, an employee allegedly discovered child pornography, reported it to his supervisor and his supervisor informed the FBI.

The filing said the Louisville branch of the FBI paid eight confidential sources over a four-year period from 2008-2012.

“A lot of times you feel like you’re the superhero solving all these problems for everybody and it’s a lot of fun,” said Steve Schardein, who owns Triple S Computers and has worked with computers most of his life. He’s been to the Geek Squad in Brooks.

“They have computers shipped in, they do the work and ship them back out to whatever satellite location they picked them up from,” Schardein said. “It’s a really cool idea for efficiency.”

Seeing private information is common with tech work, but being paid by the FBI to find child porn is new to him.

“I was a little bit surprised,” he said. “At the same time, there’s a reasonable expectation that when you drop your computer off with somebody they have access to your stuff.”

Constitutional lawyer Jon Fleischaker said the search appears to violate the Fourth Amendment, protecting against an illegal search.

“My first reaction was it’s not right,” Fleischaker said.

He also said the end can’t justify the means when it comes to the law.

“It’s not a technicality,” he said. “It’s a constitutional right. It’s like saying if you’re guilty, I can do whatever to prove you’re guilty.”

The question is whether the images were searched for or just found, which is legal.

“You have testimony about where was it and how did you see it,” Fleischaker said.

Schardein said if Best Buy was doing data recovery work, which the filing said it was, finding the pictures wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

“If you’re digging into it when you’re just doing a general kind of tune up then there’s maybe another conversation to be had,” Schardein said.

The documents said one Geek Squad employee found child pornography on computers six to nine times a year.

As a general rule, Schardein said to treat a computer technician like a doctor.

“If you don’t know that you can trust the person who’s working on it, you shouldn’t be dropping it off with that person or that company,” he said. “You should look for somebody you trust.”

Another motion in the case gets more technical.

That legal argument is that the photo was in what’s known as unaccessed space. In other words, the FBI couldn’t prove the computer owner looked at the images, like they were emailed and he was an innocent victim and never opened it.

The FBI, however, allegedly used them as cause for a search warrant for his home and computer to find additional evidence.

“It’ll be interesting to see how that case turns out,” Fleischaker said.

The motions will be argued in federal court Wednesday.

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