If your computer had problems, would you take it to the nearest FBI office for repairs? Probably not. But in some cases, you may as well have done so. And it could get you in some very hot water. Thanks to court records, an indefatigable defense attorney, and some good reporting, we now know that the FBI has recruited and paid technicians of Best Buy's Geek Squad to act as informants — at the very least — and more likely as agents of the government in the legal sense of that term.
The story starts way back in 2011 when a physician in Orange County, California — Mark Rettenmaier — had computer trouble. He took his laptop to the Geek Squad for diagnosis and repair. The Geek Squad went well beyond the call of their prescribed duty. They deep-scanned the doctor's hard drive, examining what's called unallocated space on the disk. The techs found something interesting in that space: an image file. They decided it was child pornography and alerted the FBI.
First, it turns out that the image isn't actually kiddie porn. It did depict a naked underage girl, but the picture does not depict sex or show genitals. Second, a federal appeals court had previously ruled in a different case that files found in unallocated space couldn't be used to show possession or intent, because there is no way of knowing how they got there or who accessed them. Third, the FBI and prosecutors withheld crucial information about how exactly the image was discovered. It wasn't due to normal technical service operations by the Geek Squad. It was because the techs had been recruited by the FBI, trained, and encouraged to do these highly technical deep searches to find suspicious materials in order to receive cash payments as rewards.
In plain English, the FBI turned them into paid informers acting as unregistered agents of the government. The case is still pending but the defense has filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on the government's purported illicit conduct. Now it will be up to Judge Carney as to whether or not this case goes forward.
Best Buy's Geek Squad provides extra service: a search of your computer and a report to the FBI