FBI Pays Geek Squad to Report on Customers’ Computers
Ashley Allen / 3 years ago
The FBI has reportedly been paying members of Best Buy’s Geek Squad – effectively a tech support service – to look for data that may relate to criminal activities on the PCs of customers that they are meant to be fixing, according to OCWeekly. Incentives are being offered by the law enforcement agency to encourage Geek Squad employees to purposely seek for illegal materials on computers brought into Best Buy stores for servicing.
“According to court records, Geek Squad technician John “Trey” Westphal, an FBI informant, reported he accidentally located on Rettenmaier’s computer an image of “a fully nude, white prepubescent female on her hands and knees on a bed, with a brown choker-type collar around her neck”,” reports OCWeekly’s R. Scott Moxley. “Westphal notified his boss, Justin Meade, also an FBI informant, who alerted colleague Randall Ratliff, another FBI informant at Best Buy, as well as the FBI. Claiming the image met the definition of child pornography and was tied to a series of illicit pictures known as the “Jenny” shots, agent Tracey Riley seized the hard drive.”
So, a Geek Squad member finds evidence of child porn on a customer’s computer and reports it to the proper authorities. Even if Geek Squad members were not already legally obligated to report this evidence, doing so is unquestionably the right thing to do. So what’s the problem here? The problem is that the FBI paid Westphal $500 to search the computer and report his findings, making the issue a matter of paying informants to bypass the FBI’s legal requirement for a warrant access someone’s computer.
“Setting aside the issue of whether the search of Rettenmaier’s computer constituted an illegal search by private individuals acting as government agents, the FBI undertook a series of dishonest measures in hopes of building a case, according to James D. Riddet, Rettenmaier’s San Clemente-based defense attorney,” Moxley writes. “Riddet says agents conducted two additional searches of the computer without obtaining necessary warrants, lied to trick a federal magistrate judge into authorizing a search warrant, then tried to cover up their misdeeds by initially hiding records.”
Jeff Haydock, Vice President for Communications at Best Buy, defended the Geek Squad staff, reaffirming that employees are required by law to report possession of illegal materials, but failing to mention the thorny issue of these employees being on the payroll of the FBI.
“Best Buy is required by law to report the discovery of certain illegal material to law enforcement, but being paid by authorities to do so would violate company policy,” Haydock told OCWeekly. “If these reports are true, it is purely poor individual judgement. If we discover child pornography in the normal course of servicing a computer, phone or tablet, we have an obligation to contact law enforcement. We believe this is the right thing to do, and we inform our customers before beginning any work that this is our policy.”