FBI trained Geek Squad techs on law-enforcement tactics, new records show

Evidence reveals the FBI trained Geek Squad technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens. Best Buy denies the claims.

FBI trained Geek Squad technicians, new records show
Magdalena Petrova

The connection between the FBI and Best Buy's internal service and repair organization Geek Squad went a lot further than initially thought, according to newly unsealed records in a case involving a doctor charged with child pornography after bringing in a laptop for repair. 

The Orange County (California) Weekly has been all over a case involving a well-respected physician Dr. Mark A. Rettenmaier. Rettenmaier took his laptop to the Mission Viejo Best Buy in November 2011 after he was unable to start it. 

+ Also on Network World: Why you shouldn't trust Geek Squad ever again +

While performing a recovery scan of his data files, a Geek Squad technician found an image of "a fully nude, white prepubescent female on her hands and knees on a bed, with a brown choker-type collar around her neck." The technician notified his boss, who alerted the FBI. 

The case exposed supposed collusion between Geek Squad and the FBI, including claims that the FBI would pay a $500 reward to the Geek Squad tech who turns in someone for criminal activity such as child pornography. This led to accusations that Geek Squad techs were scanning all of the PCs that came in for repair, which Best Buy denied. 

Records reveal the FBI trained Geek Squad techs 

In a new update to the case, the Orange County Weekly says recently unsealed records reveal a much more extensive secret relationship than previously known between the FBI and Geek Squad, including evidence the agency trained company technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens and, to covertly increase surveillance of the public, encouraged searches of computers even when unrelated to a customer's request for repairs. 

+ Also on Network World: Lessons for corporate IT from Geek Squad legal case +

To get around the claims of warrantless invasions of private property, Geek Squad technicians are basically told to say they found the incriminating evidence by accident. The government denied it, but more than a dozen summaries of FBI memoranda filed inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this month in Rettenmaier's case are said to contradict the official line. 

Best Buy denies claims 

Best Buy continues to deny the claims made by the Orange County Register. In a statement to Network World, a spokesman said the following: 

“To be clear, Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI and never have. We have not been trained by the FBI nor have we ever shared customer lists, conducted surveillance or searched customer computers for them. Our policies prohibit Geek Squad agents from accessing customer content other than what is absolutely necessary to solve the customer’s problem so we can maintain their privacy and keep up with our volume of repairs.

"On occasion, our repair agents inadvertently discover material that may be child pornography. They are not looking for it. But when it is discovered, 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.”

And according to the LA Times, the tech in question who found the photos has also denied any FBI connection.

During Meade's testimony Thursday, he rejected the idea that he communicated with the FBI and turned over customer data out of motivation to get paid. He said he doesn't recall ever being paid by the FBI for alerting the agency to suspicious data. He also said no one at the FBI ever directed him to look through customers' data and that that type of review wouldn't be performed unless it fell under the scope of work requested by a customer.

In the case of Rettenmaier, it was a data recovery case, and he had requested Best Buy attempt to recover data, including photos, according to Best Buy.

A judge is currently weighing a motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds of a warrantless search. If he does not go along with it, a trial for Rettenmaier is scheduled for June 6. Geek Squad, though, will be crucified in the court of public opinion.

+ What do you think? Share your thoughts on the FBI's involvement with Geek Squad +

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

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in