Comey FBI Actively Cultivated Informants in Best Buy's Geek Squad

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Sep 13, 2017, 7:29:35 PM9/13/17
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Geek Squad supervisor Justin Meade
Deputy Field Marshal at The Geek Squad
Greater Philadelphia AreaInformation Technology and Services
Geek Squad
Geek Squad, Best Buy
DeVry University
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New federal court filings analyzed by the Orange County Weekly
reveal a deeper relationship than previously understood between
the FBI and members of Best Buy’s Geek Squad. The documents
include information about the long-term training and management
of Geek Squad staff as FBI informants, who used their access to
customers’ computers to actively search for illegal material,
primarily child pornography.

The FBI had previously acknowledged a program that paid Best Buy
employees $500 for tips about child pornography. Even that
arrangement was alarming from a civil liberties and privacy
perspective, but it was apparently only the tip of the iceberg.
OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley characterizes the more extensive
program shown in the new filings as an effort “to sidestep the
U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against warrantless invasions of
private property.”

Rather than just offering one-off rewards for tips, the FBI
appears to have cultivated ongoing relationships with some Geek
Squad staffers. OC Weekly particularly highlights the case of
Geek Squad supervisor Justin Meade, who according to the FBI
documents received "assignments" and provided “valuable
information” consistently over “several years” thanks to his
“excellent and frequent” access to the computers of Best Buy
customers. Some FBI agents wanted to "schedule regular meetings"
with Meade, and for him to be “tasked” to do even more searches.

The documents also reportedly show that the FBI made plans to
train Geek Squad staff to recognize the sorts of images the FBI
wanted them to look for on customers’ computers, and Best Buy
staffers even contemplated ways to automate their searches. The
program was apparently not confined to California, as one memo
makes reference to a "close liaison" between the FBI and Geek
Squad management in Louisville, Kentucky.

The documents, which Fortune has not seen directly, were entered
into evidence by a defense attorney in the troubled prosecution
of a California doctor accused of possessing child pornography.
The material in question was initially discovered by a Geek
Squad technician servicing the doctor's computer in 2011. The
defense has argued that Geek Squad staff were acting as de facto
government agents, making any evidence they uncovered without a
warrant inadmissible.

While Best Buy in a January statement acknowledged its
obligation to report illegal material discovered “in the normal
course of servicing a computer, phone or tablet,” it has denied
cooperating with the FBI in searching customers’ computers. In
January, a spokesperson said that staffers accepting payment
from authorities to inform on customers “would violate company
policy,” calling it “purely poor individual judgment.”Though the
new documents refer to contact between the FBI and Geek Squad
“management,” it would be surprising if this meant corporate-
level leaders. Best Buy, much like Apple and other technology
companies, has a strong business motivation to protect customer

The Geek Squad has been described by Best Buy leadership as a
key part of the chain’s survival as a retailer in the age of
Amazon, and public awareness that the friendly mobile IT support
team could also be FBI snoops would be nothing short of
devastating to that strategy.

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