Tech Watchdog Sues for FBI Records on Alleged Training of Best Buy Computer Workers

Tech Watchdog Sues for FBI Records on Alleged Training of Best Buy Computer Workers Photo: AP/Matt Rourke

June 01, 2017 12:52 PM

A nonprofit technology civil rights watchdog is suing the United States Department of Justice in an effort to get the FBI to turn over records related to the alleged training or recruitment of Best Buy employees to ferret out child pornography during computer repairs.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. Wednesday. The suit asks the FBI to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents that the EFF filed in early February. 

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Specifically, the nonprofit seeks:

  • All internal memoranda or other documentation regarding the use of informants and/or CHSs ("cooperating human sources") at any Best Buy facility;
  • All internal memoranda or other documentation regarding FBI training of Best Buy personnel in the detection and location of child pornography, or other material, on computers brought to Best Buy for repair;
  • All recruiting material from the FBI directed to Best Buy personnel; and
  • All memoranda, guidance, directives, or policy statements concerning the use of informants and/or CHSs at any computer repair facilities in the United States.

The lawsuit says the EFF made its request to the FBI Feb. 2; and in a letter dated April 18, the bureau denied the request, writing, "It is the FBI's policy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of any records which would tend to indicate or reveal whether an individual or organization is of investigatory interest to the FBI."

The FBI never responded to a follow-up email by the foundation seeking to clarify the request. The EFF says it filed the suit because it has exhausted all administrative options in an attempt to retrieve the information.

The suit asks the bureau to immediately process the FOIA request in its entirety. It also asks for a waiver of service and review fees -- arguing the EFF qualifies as news media – and a waiver of all fees related to the request because disclosing the information would be of public interest. 

For its part, Best Buy said in a statement it has learned that four of its employees "may have received payment after turning over alleged child pornography to the FBI," and three of them are no longer with the company. The fourth has been reassigned. 

"Any decision to accept payment was in very poor judgement and inconsistent with our traiing and policies," the statement reads.

According to a story on the website The Wrap, citing court documents reported in The Washington Post, the alleged FBI program came to light when attorneys defending a California gynecologist on child porn possession charges claimed "sealed government documents reveal the FBI trained and paid Geek Squad employees, turning them into FBI agents, and therefore would have required a search warrant before Geek Squad employees could search the doctor's computer."

Prosecutors in that case said, "Authorities obtained a search warrant for the doctor's computer after Best Buy employees reported alleged evidence of child pornography to authorities," according to The Wrap article.

The full Best Buy statement: 

Nearly 100 times a year, Geek Squad employees discover what appears to be child pornography on customers' computers. They don't search for the material, but inadvertently discover it in the normal course of repairing a computer. When we do find what appears to be child pornography, we have a moral and, in more than 20 states, a legal obligation to inform law enforcement. We inform our customers, including the defendant in this case, of this obligation prior to doing any work. To be clear: Geek Squad does not work for the FBI and never has.

We have learned that four employees may have received payment after turning over alleged child pornography to the FBI. Any decision to accept payment was in very poor judgement and inconsistent with our training and policies. Three of these employees are no longer with the company and the fourth has been reprimanded and reassigned.

Credits

Michael Oakes

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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