Saturday, 23/9/2017 | 12:11 UTC+0

FBI paid Geek Squad ‘informants’ to search computers for child porn, says court filing

Multiple technicians with Best Buy’s Geek Squad repair service received hundreds of dollars from the FBI in exchange for seeking child pornography on customers’ computers, according to court documents reviewed by The Washington Post. These filings raise questions about how close a relationship the agency has with Geek Squad members, and whether these relationships could make some of the technicians’ searches unconstitutional.

Geek Squad employees will notify law enforcement if they find child pornography while fixing customers’ computers, and in many states, they’re legally required to do so. The question is whether technicians are specifically acting as FBI informants to find material that the agency would otherwise need a warrant to look for. Such a system would let law enforcement get around Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. Lawyers for Mark Rettenmaier, a California doctor charged with possessing child pornography, are asking to have FBI evidence thrown out on exactly these grounds.

Documents unsealed by the FBI say that between 2007 and 2012, the agency cultivated eight “informants” at the Geek Squad City computer repair site in Kentucky. Several employees received $500 or $1,000 payments from the FBI, and in one case, an employee claimed to be writing a software program that would automatically identify images of child porn. A hearing in January revealed some of this information, but these new documents offer more specific details, including ones about how much informants were paid.

Prosecutors say this software was meant to search employee work computers, not machines that customers sent in. And at least one employee said he was “extremely reluctant and irritated that the FBI gave me money, and tried to give it back,” to no avail.

Still, a Best Buy spokesperson expressed regret that employees had taken money. “We have learned that four employees may have received payment after turning over alleged child pornography to the FBI,” the company told the Post. “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.” A judge will rule on the legality of their actions by June, when Rettenmaier’s trial is set to begin.

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