You send your laptop to the Geek Squad for repairs, not a search. But the FBI has paid Geek Squad techs to inform on customers - a search with no warrant. Can the government ignore the Constitution by getting private firms to do its bidding?
In a report this morning a Washington Post reporter detailed a startling case: the FBI has apparently paid a Best Buy Geek Squad supervisor to report on customer computers that might contain child pornography. Paid informants, searching without a warrant, on behalf of the government?
When you authorize a Geek Squad repair, the service order contains the phrase: "I am on notice that any product containing child pornography will be turned over to the authorities." Best Buy maintains that they've done nothing wrong, because the customer authorized the repair, in this case a transfer of data from an old hard drive to a new one.
But the picture the tech found was on the drive's unallocated space, i.e. space that the file system is able to use for new data, not capacity containing the files the customer wanted preserved. Accessing files in unallocated space requires going above and beyond the job the customer contracted for, as well as extra software to recover deleted data. A Federal appeals court has ruled that data in unallocated space is insufficient to prove that the user knew of its existence.
The picture the tech found ultimately led prosecutors in California to get a search warrant in February, 2012, which led to an indictment almost three years later. A hearing later this week will explore the relationship between the FBI, Best Buy, and the informant who received $500 from the FBI prior to the picture in this case.
The Storage Bits take
One has to wonder how the techs find time to search unallocated space for possible porn. I've used several kinds of data recovery software over the years, and the process is not quick. Once you've found the files, you then have to look at them.
The Constitution gives all citizens protection against government over reach, such as searches without a warrant. This case could define our rights for years to come. It's a digital world, and our laws have to catch up with that fact.