The legally questionable, yet morally sound teamwork of the FBI and Geek Squad

Julia Kocsis, Assistant Editor

Both the FBI and Best Buy’s Geek Squad have been under fire in the media lately for their history of collaboration. The FBI was discovered to have been paying Geek Squad as informants when they came across, flagged and reported child pornography on their client’s devices.

This information was released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, (EFF), a digital civil liberties organization, when they filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The documents obtained revealed the fact that at least one of the Geek Squad FBI informants received a $500 payment. However, at least one Geek Squad informant attempted to give the money back.

Geek Squad employees only flag material for the FBI when they come across child pornography on a client’s computer. Federal laws concerning the sexual exploitation of children state that it is a computer technician’s “duty to report” these pornographic images. This is an undeniably admirable cause that is tragically marred by the acceptance of payment for their good deeds. 

Mark Rettenmaier, an Orange County, California, doctor who took his computer to the Geek Squad for repair faced child pornography charges after an employee alerted the FBI. Unfortunately, the evidence was thrown out and charges dropped because of issues with the legality of the computer search and resulting search warrant.

The EFF expressed its’ concern that the FBI is using Geek Squad informants as a way to bypass the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is what protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

However, this begs us to question— do consumers of child pornography, pedophiles, really deserve this right to privacy? After all, they are breaking the law and contributing to the despicable, egregious market for child pornography by providing demand for the material.  

Some of those who are in opposition to the Geek Squad’s policy suggest that employees may be searching customers’ devices with the motive of assisting the FBI. However, Geek Squad made a statement that says that their employees never look for “anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer’s problem.”

So, when the employees encounter child pornography on a client’s computer, it is not a purposeful action and therefore is not motivated. Geek Squad continued their statement to report that their technicians have “not sought or received training from law enforcement in how to search for child pornography.”

The other public issue with the Geek Squad’s actions is the payment some of their employees received for flagging the pornographic material to the FBI. While not all of the hundreds of cases per year received payment, the few that did shed a bad light on the objective.

The Geek Squad has both a moral and legal obligation to alert the proper authorities when their employees come across child pornography. Customers of Geek Squad are made aware of this policy in writing before the repair or service even begins.

If not for the debate of whether Geek Squad employees search for the illegal content on purpose or not and for the issue of payment for their deeds, society would be applauding their noble efforts. When opponents of this partnership cite Fourth Amendment rights, we need to think about whose privacy they are trying to protect and whether or not they deserve it.