Imagine that your house needs to be repaired. Say the plumbing needs work. You call a professional to come over and fix the problem.
While he’s under the sink doing his job, you step out of the house for a minute. When you get back, you find the plumber digging through your desk drawers and personal files — and when you protest, he says the government paid him to search your house, without a warrant and without suspecting you of a specific crime.
That scenario is essentially what Best Buy employees are accused of doing, only with your computer instead of your house.
A bombshell report by the Electronic Freedom Foundation claims that Geek Squad, the computer repair division of Best Buy, has been paid by the FBI to dig through customers’ computers without warrants.
The activity is ostensibly part of a project to cut down on child pornography, but the lack of any warrants and the use of informants to violate privacy on behalf of the federal government has the watchdog group raising the alarm.
“Records posted Tuesday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation following a freedom of information lawsuit filed last year reveal that federal agents would pay Geek Squad managers who pass on information about illegal materials on devices sent in by customers for repairs,” explained ZDNet.
“Because the FBI uses Geek Squad as informants, the EFF says that any search should be seen as a warrantless search carried out by proxy, and thus any evidence obtained as a result of the illegal searches should be thrown out of court,” continued the technology news site.
It’s one thing for a technician to call law enforcement if they stumble across something illegal during the normal course of their job. However, it may be something else entirely if they are paid by the government to actively go through the computers of customers, violating privacy just to see what they can find.
That kind of proactive searching appears to be exactly what Geek Squad technicians did, arguably “playing detective” on behalf of the FBI… without any pesky warrants or due process.
“Some evidence in the case appears to show Geek Squad employees did make an affirmative effort to identify illegal material,” the EFF confirmed.
“For example, the image found on (one suspect’s) hard drive was in an unallocated space, which typically requires forensic software to find,” explained the foundation. It would be next to impossible to detect something hidden in such a way unless a technician was looking for it.
“Other evidence showed that Geek Squad employees were financially rewarded for finding child pornography,” the EFF continued. “Such a bounty would likely encourage Geek Squad employees to actively sweep for suspicious content.”
Let’s be clear: Child pornography is both sickening and illegal, and every sane person wants the people involved in it to be found. With that said, we cannot simply tear up the Constitution any time it might be convenient to catch a few more criminals.
There’s a reason jack-booted police forces cannot ransack your house on a whim, even though this would undoubtedly put a few criminals out of business: That would no longer be a free country based on rights and laws, but a tyrannical dictatorship like one that countless Americans died to prevent.
We’ve already used the example of a repairman searching your house without a warrant. Here’s another analogy: If you took your car into the shop to have an alignment only to find out that mechanics tore all the body panels off looking for possible hidden drugs — again, with no warrant and being paid by the FBI — would you be OK with it?
“Sending your computer to Best Buy for repairs shouldn’t require you to surrender your Fourth Amendment rights. But that’s apparently what’s been happening when customers send their computers to a Geek Squad repair facility,” summarized the EFF.
“At no point did the FBI get warrants based on probable cause before Geek Squad informants conducted these searches,” the foundation continued. “Nor are these cases the result of Best Buy employees happening across potential illegal content on a device and alerting authorities.”
“Rather, the FBI was apparently directing Geek Squad workers to conduct fishing expeditions on people’s devices to find evidence of criminal activity,” the group continued.
That’s not how due process works. That isn’t how the Fourth Amendment works, and it’s not how America is supposed to work.
It’s time to ask some serious questions about the FBI, and whether its personnel care about their constitutional oaths or the principles of the United States. The scandals at the bureau are starting to pile up, and a once-respected agency has lost the trust of the American people.
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