If you've ever taken your computer to Best Buy's Geek Squad and gotten a bad feeling about how they are treating your information, you might have been right. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued the FBI to release information regarding their relationship, either official or unofficial, with Best Buy. The Freedom of Information Act request is to find the extent to which the FBI has used Best Buy employees to perform warrentless searches of customers hard drives.
The investigation follows an incident in California where a doctor was arrested for possession of child pornography. The doctor's attorney alleges that the only way that the FBI could have received information about the contents of his client's hard drive was through an employee at a Best Buy facility outside of Louisville, Kentucky, where the computer was sent for repair.
In a statement, the EFF said,
EFF has long been concerned about law enforcement using private actors, such as Best Buy employees, to conduct warrantless searches that the Fourth Amendment plainly bars police from doing themselves. The key question is at what point does a private person's search turn into a government search that implicates the Fourth Amendment.
The company released a statement following the original case, saying that they do not instruct their employees to search for contraband content, including child pornography, but that, if it is found, they have a legal and moral responsibility to report it to the proper authorities.
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.
If it turns out that Best Buy has been working with the FBI to bypass the Constitution, there will be huge ethical and legal implications to their actions. Law enforcement cannot perform a search without probable cause, but the actions of a private citizen are not exactly subject to the same rules. If a Geek Squad employee is trained by, employed by or under direction of law enforcement, then they are constrained by the Constitution, and the FBI would be violating citizens' rights. In regards to this named case, it would have to be thrown out because of illegal search.