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The legality of the FBI’s paid Best Buy technician informants

by Natalie Chudnovsky | AirTalk

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"Geek Squad" agent Eric Fortuna (R) assists customer Charles King at a "Geek Squad" computer repair facility in a Best Buy store June 6, 2006 in Niles, Illinois. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

In 2011, a California doctor sent his faulty computer’s hard drive to Best Buy’s Geek Squad City in Kentucky, where a technician repairing the drive found and reported child porn.

The doctor now faces federal charges, but the case, United States of America v. Mark A. Rettenmaier, has brought to light a small group of paid Geek Squad informants which the FBI has been cultivating over a four-year period – a relationship which will be explored by the defense attorneys in a motion hearing in Santa Ana, Orange County starting Wednesday.

The use of these eight technicians, who reported signs of child porn to the FBI in exchange for payment, has compromised the legality of search, bringing up questions about the FBI’s reach, consumer privacy and the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.

If Best Buy was effectively operating as part of the government, it would require a warrant for searching drives. But in a statement released Monday, Best Buy said it has “no relationship with the FBI,” though when employees unintentionally come across child porn, they do report it to law enforcement – a policy they share with customers before repair.

Do Geek Squad’s customers consent to their computers being searched when they hand over their computers? Does the FBI’s use of paid informants compromise the legality of the search and render the findings unusable in court?

Guests: 

Ron Hosko, president of The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division

Lee Tien, Senior Staff Attorney and Adams Chair for Internet Rights at the Electronic Frontier Foundation

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