The Electronic Frontier Foundation has obtained documents showing that the FBI and Best Buy’s Geek Squad have maintained a rather cozy relationship over the past decade. Memos and other records released through Freedom of Information Act requests confirm reports from last year of Geek Squad members serving as paid FBI informants. They also reveal new details about how closely federal agents and Geeks communicated with one another.
We first learned of a possible working relationship between the two groups in April during the child pornography trial of a gynecological oncologist named Mark Rettenmaier in California, who had taken his computer in for a repair at Best Buy. The customer service representatives there sent the computer to the main Geek Squad City facility in Brooks, Kentucky, where technicians discovered evidence of child porn and reported it to the FBI. Agents for the bureau then obtained a warrant to search the doctor’s house, where they found “thousands of images of child pornography.”
While it is not unheard of for computer service people to contact authorities when they find potentially illegal material, Rettenmaier’s defense attorney argued over the course of the resulting trial that members of the Geek Squad were in fact acting as government agents violating the Fourth Amendment by conducting a warrantless search. Court filings and testimony revealed that four of the eight employees had received $500 and $1,000 payments from the bureau. Best Buy at the time claimed its technicians had found the images inadvertently and that those who were compensated by the FBI had either left the company or faced punishment.
The documents released on Tuesday now show that Best Buy had in fact hosted a meeting with the FBI’s “Cyber Working Group” at the Kentucky facility in 2008, which indicates the company itself has been facilitating this relationship from time to time. The memo reads, “The Louisville Division [of the FBI] has maintained close liaison with the Geek Squad’s management in an effort to glean case initiations and to support the divisions’ Computer Intrusion and Cyber Crime programs.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also obtained payment records for the Geek Squad technicians and records for a number of investigations indicating that the FBI had developed a process for going after suspects whose devices had been obtained from Best Buy employees.
As Gizmodo points out, Best Buy has repeatedly asserted that its employees are only supposed to do the minimum necessary to help customers and that they only report illegal activity if they happen to stumble across it. However, the documents show that the Geek Squad was giving tours of their facility to the FBI and had been helping the bureau initiate investigations.