Wednesday, March 15, 2017 by Robert Jonathan
Like junior G-men, are geeks peeking inside your computer in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and requires a probable cause standard for search warrants. Even the president of the United States claims his predecessor secretly bugged Trump Tower during the Election 2016 campaign, and it remains to be seen if a duly authorized warrant exist and/or can be produced.
Under established legal principles, Americans enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy, or at least they used to, prior to widespread government warrantless electronic surveillance.
It turns out, however, that the Best Buy Geek Squad allegedly functioned as paid informants for the FBI, receiving a $500 bounty each time they located evidence on a customer’s machine that could prompt a criminal case. The FBI supposedly worked with eight Geek Squad technicians over a four-year period.
The allegation emerged from unsealed court records in a case in which a California gynecologist faces criminal charges for alleged possession of child porn. A Geek Squad worker in the company’s Kentucky repair facility allegedly found one or more child porn images on his hard drive in 2011. Authorities waited until November 2014 to indict the physician on two felony counts, this being long after executing a search warrant on his computer and home in February 2012.
Best Buy denies that it has or had any formal arrangement with the FBI, adding, however, that techs have an obligation to notify law enforcement if they accidentally discover any illicit material on a computer, phone, or tablet. Customers are apparently required to sign a service order containing a disclaimer to this effect. Accepting any payment from government agents for customer data runs counter to company policy, Best Buy added.
The facts may suggest otherwise. “…[E]vidence demonstrates company employees routinely snooped for the agency, contemplated ‘writing a software program’ specifically to aid the FBI in rifling through its customers’ computers without probable cause for any crime that had been committed, and were ‘under the direction and control of the FBI,'” the OC Weekly reported about the supposed secret government-geek relationship.
The doctor’s attorney wants the presiding federal judge to toss the evidence and dismiss the case (which has a June 6 trial date) altogether under these circumstances. A ruling is pending, and Natural News will stay on top of any developments.
Apart from the potential privacy violation in the alleged Geek Squad snooping, the case raises a pertinent technical issue. The Geek Squad found the image in question in the hard drive’s unallocated storage space, which requires very specialized software tools and skills typically beyond the ability of a non-geek. “There is also court precedent for the argument that files stored in such nominally inaccessible sectors of a computer system cannot be legally proven to be ‘knowing possessions’ of the computer’s owner,” Breitbart News detailed.
Another disturbing question for law-abiding Americans that may be in play: Does the FBI have a similar alleged arrangement with other tech firms, whether a corporate facility or a mom-and-pop repair shop? (RELATED: Read more about government surveillance at PrivacyWatch.news.)
Everyone agrees that authorities should go after pedophiles to the fullest extent. Given the amount of malware and the like floating around on the Internet, however, as a practical matter it is also conceivable that offensive or illegal content could wind up on an innocent consumer’s computer without his or her knowledge.
“Best Buy searching a computer is legal — the customer authorized it, and the law does not prohibit private searches. But if Best Buy serves as an arm of the government, then a warrant or specific consent is needed,” the Washington Post observed about the controversy.