Home News Your Favorite Tech Retailer Has Been Spying for the FBI

Your Favorite Tech Retailer Has Been Spying for the FBI

written by Tyler March 7, 2018
Geek Squad... more like Goof Squad

You read that right. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit last year to learn more about the FBI’s involvement with Best Buy and Geek Squad.

Who Are They Working for Anyway?

Records from these cases have indicated quite the relationship between the FBI and Geek Squad, with records going back 10 years. Documents include the indication that the FBI has been paying Geek Squad employees to act as informants, proactively searching users’ (customers’) computers for illegal activities.

The EFF’s FOIA lawsuit had brought them some documents further documenting the FBI’s relationship with Best Buy and Geek Squad. One memo indicated that in 2008, Best Buy hosted a meeting of an FBI “Cyber Working Group” at their Kentucky repair facility. This document and a released email also show that not only did Geek Squad give the FBI a tour of their facility before their meeting, but that:

“[The FBI] 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.”

picture of a Geek Squad car in front of a Best Buy

“Case Initiation”

Hmm. So, you’re paying Geek Squad to proactively (and illegally) go through customers’ computers to try to find suspicious activity? That sounds like “case initiation” to me. Does that mean if I use Geek Squad’s services, and they just HAPPEN to find my Ace of Base download from Napster circa 90’s (shut up, they speak to me), that they’ll report it to the authorities?

Is Geek Squad Alone?

Don’t get me wrong, an absolute die-hard computer nerd will laugh at you for using Geek Squad’s services anyway, but this type of douchebaggery falls in line with the recent surveillance state fiascos over the years in the US. Worse yet, the FBI has declined to comment to the EFF when asked if they have any similar relationships with other tech companies or services. I’m sure we can all easily speculate how far their slimy hands reach for these types of activities.

The Future of Privacy

Not only do court records show (and Best Buy confirming this) that employees have been paid hefty bounties for catching bad-boy activity on computers, but the FBI gives out the information in their relationship that gives an incentive for their new best friends in Geek Squad to proactively snoop around. EFF points out, rightly so, that since neither the FBI or the super-crafty Geek Squad employees had a warrant to search a computer for illicit activity, this potentially violates 4th Amendment rights:

EFF has long been concerned about law enforcement using private actors, such as Best Buy employees, to conduct warrantless searches that the Fourth Amendment plainly bars police from doing themselves. The key question is at what point does a private person’s search turn into a government search that implicates the Fourth Amendment. As described below, the law on the question is far from clear and needs to catch up with our digital world.

I can’t say I’m surprised, but this relationship is just another scary indication that archaic privacy laws have yet to catch up with the internet and our digital society. To be honest, it feels all too deliberate. I mean, if the laws were not actually riddled with gray areas, we wouldn’t have so many corporations and government entities with their fingers and noses in the business of ordinary citizens.

Have you used Geek Squad in the past 10 years? Are you worried about them finding out about your Spice Girls downloads from yesteryear like I am? Let us know in the comments!

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