Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to learn more about how the FBI uses Best Buy’s Geek Squad employees to flag illegal material when people pay the company to repair their computers.
A few days ago, EFF published a report on what the newly released documents revealed, titled Geek Squad’s Relationship with FBI Is Cozier Than We Thought.
For at least a decade, the FBI has enjoyed a particularly cozy relationship with Best Buy officials, according to EFF:
For example, an FBI memo from September 2008 details how Best Buy hosted a meeting of the agency’s “Cyber Working Group” at the company’s Kentucky repair facility.
The memo and a related email show that Geek Squad employees also gave FBI officials a tour of the facility before their meeting and makes clear that the law enforcement agency’s Louisville Division “has maintained close liaison with the Geek Squad’s management in an effort to glean case initiations and to support the division’s Computer Intrusion and Cyber Crime programs.”
A Best Buy spokesperson confirmed to reporters that at least four Geek Squad employees received payments from the FBI. One of the documents details a $500 payment from the FBI to a Geek Squad informant, which appears to be directly related to the FBI’s prosecution of California doctor Mark Rettenmaier, who was charged with possession of child pornography after Best Buy sent his computer to a repair facility in Kentucky.
In January 2017, The Washington Post covered Rettenmaier’s case, and reported the doctor’s attorneys found that the FBI had cultivated eight “confidential human sources” in the Geek Squad over a four-year period – who all received payment.
The doctor’s attorneys also discovered that the image found on Rettenmaier’s hard drive was located on “unallocated space,” which is where deleted items are stored on a computer until they are overwritten when the space is needed. Unallocated space is not easily accessed – it requires special forensic software.
EFF points out that this evidence appears to show that Geek Squad employees did make a a conscious effort to find illegal material. In addition, other evidence shows that Geek Squad employees were financially rewarded for finding child pornography, which could provide an incentive for them to actively search for suspicious content.
Other documents obtained by EFF describe the process FBI agents use to investigate and prosecute people who sent their devices to Geek Squad for repairs:
The FBI agent would show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content. After that, they would seize the hard drive or computer and send it to another FBI field office near where the owner of the device lived. Agents at that local FBI office would then investigate further, and in some cases try to obtain a warrant to search the device.
“Their relationship is so cozy,” defense attorney James D. Riddet told the Post, “and so extensive that it turns searches by Best Buy into government searches. If they’re going to set up that network between Best Buy supervisors and FBI agents, you run the risk that Best Buy is a branch of the FBI.”
These revelations present two security concerns for cryptocurrency investors to keep in mind. If someone is “fixing” your computer, they could grab your private keys or wallet DAT files. And, if your computer is turned over to the FBI for whatever reason, anything you have stored – or even have deleted – can be located using that special forensic software.