A digital privacy group says the FBI trained Best Buy employees to conduct "warrantless searches of customers' computers" — in what it likened to fishing expeditions for criminal activity.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on Wednesday filed suit against the Justice Department to obtain records about what it alleges has been secret surveillance by members of the "Geek Squad," the electronics chain's computer repair service.
"Informants who are trained, directed, and paid by the FBI to conduct searches for the agency are acting as government agents," said David Greene, EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. "The FBI cannot bypass the Constitution's warrant requirement by having its informants search people's computers at its direction and command."
The EFF said it hopes to expose how the FBI "co-opts Best Buy repair technicians in criminal investigations."
Court records in a child pornography case against a California man who sent his computer to Best Buy for repair, revealed "a long, close relationship" between company technicians and the FBI, the group said, citing media reports.
"Informants at Best Buy's 'Geek Squad City' repair facility in Kentucky received $500 and $1,000 payments from the FBI, and agency documents said the Best Buy informants were 'under the control and direction of the FBI."'
In addition, the EFF said, FBI agents "were seeking training of the Geek Squad technicians to help them identify what type of files and images should be reported to the FBI."
EFF said it sent a Freedom of Information request to the FBI in February seeking agency records about the use of informants and training of Best Buy personnel to find child pornography on computers, but the agency denied the request.
"The public has a right to know how the FBI uses computer repair technicians to carry out searches the agents themselves cannot do without a warrant," said David Sobel, EFF's senior counsel. "People authorize Best Buy employees to fix their computers, not conduct unconstitutional searches on the FBI's behalf."
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