Best Buy responds to Geek Squad snooping case

Company denies relationship with the FBI or sanctioning of payment to Geek Squad techs

Best Buy offered its response to claims its Geek Squad repair technicians snoop through PCs brought in for repair, making a claim that is fairly obvious, given its situation. 

It stems from my last blog post, "Why you shouldn't trust Geek Squad ever again," which in turn was inspired by an Orange County Weekly article that claimed the FBI was paying Geek Squad staffers a $500 reward for any incriminating evidence they find in a device brought in for repair.

+ Also on Network World: Peeping into 73,000 unsecured security cameras thanks to default passwords +

This effort was exposed in a court case involving child pornography charges brought against a prominent Orange County physician, who also taught at USC's and UCLA's medical schools. Dr. Mark Rettenmaier brought in his laptop to the Mission Viejo Best Buy for repair, and the Geek Squad repairman ran a scanning tool known as a "carver," which is used to detect lost or deleted files. 

As it turns out, there was a good reason to run the carver, as a Best Buy spokesperson told me they were attempting data recovery for Dr. Rettenmaier. That was how a picture of a naked pre-teen girl was found. The tech then discussed it with other employees, and they called the FBI, according to the Orange County Weekly. 

In this regard, Best Buy issued the following statement:

"Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI. From time to time, our repair agents discover material that may be child pornography and we have a legal and moral obligation to turn that material over to law enforcement.  We are proud of our policy and share it with our customers before we begin any repair. 

“Any circumstances in which an employee received payment from the FBI is the result of extremely poor individual judgment, is not something we tolerate and is certainly not a part of our normal business behavior. 

“To be clear, our agents unintentionally find child pornography as they try to make the repairs the customer is paying for. They are not looking for it. Our policies prohibit agents from doing anything other than what is necessary to solve the customer’s problem so that we can maintain their privacy and keep up with the volume of repairs.” 

Would Geek Squad tech really become FBI informants on their own?

I understand their sentiment, but I also don't buy it. If, as the Orange County Weekly reports, Geek Squad technicians company-wide are being rewarded with tips to the FBI, then it had to be coordinated by management. The FBI sure isn't going to go store to store with a massive chain like Best Buy, and I really doubt the techs would jeopardize their jobs by acting as informants. An effort like this needs to be done centrally. 

+ Also on Network World: Cops to increasingly use digital footprints from IoT devices for investigations +

Rettenmaier's attorney told the Orange County Weekly that the "FBI and Best Buy made sure that during the period from 2007 to the present, there was always at least one supervisor who was an active informant." He also said, "The FBI appears to be able to access data at [Best Buy's main repair facility in Brooks, Kentucky] whenever they want. 

So, whom to believe: the defense attorney or the company spokesman? Up until now, I believed Rettenmaier was railroaded, but the BBC reports 800 pictures of naked girls were found on his iPhone, something not mentioned in the Orange County Weekly article. If that's true, then he's a lot less innocent than I thought. 

But it doesn't change the claim of searching through PCs for dirt. I was incorrect in claiming it was unconstitutional, as the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to private businesses like Best Buy. It just doesn't look good.

+ What do you think? Share your comments about Best Buy's response on our Facebook page +

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.