Best Buy hosted a meeting with the FBI and provided a tour of its Kentucky repair facility, indicating a closer relationship with the company’s Geek Squad than either initially acknowledged last year in a court case that involved child pornography, new government records reportedly show.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained the government records after a court fight with the FBI and published them this week.
Best Buy subsequently said in a statement that four employees “may have received payment after turning over child pornography to the FBI,” BuzzFeed reported. Three of those employees are no longer with the company and a fourth was reprimanded and reassigned.
Best Buy told Gizmodo that employees find possible child pornography on customers’ computers nearly 100 times a year.
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Last year, consumers learned that Best Buy Geek Squad technicians working out of a facility near Louisville would alert the FBI and turn over pornographic or questionable images of children to agents. That revelation occurred because of a California doctor who fought charges that were filed against him over a photo of a nude prepubescent girl on a bed, according to the Washington Post. In one case, a supervisor was paid, it was reported then.
At the time, Best Buy argued it had no relationship with the FBI, but it was required legally and morally to turn over material that may be child pornography to authorities when its found. Furthermore, the company noted consumers were informed of that practice in the paperwork they sign before their computers were repaired. Malfunctioning computers or hard drives from consumers in several states ended up at the Kentucky facility, which specialized in retrieving lost data.
Individual technicians were not permitted to receive payment, Best Buy said then, emphasizing employees did not go looking for material to hand over to the FBI but handed over material it found in the course of repairs. Nevertheless, a judge dismissed the charges against the doctor.
With its new records that included FBI emails, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that Geek Squad members were paid as informants more frequently. The relationship has existed for at least 10 years. The meeting and tour of the Louisville facility occurred in 2008. A memo noted the Louisville FBI division “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.”
A series of investigations evolved from a Geek Squad employee alerting the FBI’s Louisville office after finding possible child pornography, the Frontier Foundation reported. An FBI agent would arrive and review the material before continuing any investigation.
The Frontier Foundation posted the records they obtained and offered links. They can be found at eff.org/document/third-production-fbi-geek-squad-foia and at eff.org/document/first-production-fbi-geek-squad-foia