Best Buy says employees don't work for FBI

A Best Buy store
Best Buy is based in Richfield, Minn.
Mark Lennihan | AP 2014

Best Buy says a California-based privacy rights group is mistaken in suspecting there's any investigative relationship between the FBI and the retailer.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued the U.S. Department of Justice, saying it wants information about alleged Best Buy-FBI cooperation. The issue arose in the child pornography prosecution of a California physician.

The doctor's attorney contended that the FBI used Geek Squad employees as paid informants. "Whether or not this was Best Buy institutionally or just an FBI effort to recruit individual technicians, that's something we're interested in learning about," said David Greene, the EFF's civil liberties director.

He said it'd be wrong for Best Buy to conduct searches that the FBI couldn't do without a warrant.

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"The question is: If you bring your computer in, are they going to search your computer to find things that they wouldn't otherwise find during the course of repair," Greene said. "If they happen to come across something, that's a different issue."

Best Buy says it doesn't work for the FBI. But it said four supervisors may have accepted payments after turning over porn at various times, violating company policy.

"Any decision to accept payment was in very poor judgement and inconsistent with our training and policies," company spokesman Jeff Shelman said in an emailed statement. "Three of these employees are no longer with the company and the fourth has been reprimanded and reassigned."

The company says all customers seeking repairs sign a document stating that law enforcement will be notified if child porn is found. Best Buy says employees do not purposely search for child pornography but come across it inadvertently about 100 times a year.

"When we do find what appears to be child pornography, we have a moral and, in more than 20 states, a legal obligation to inform law enforcement," Shelman wrote. "We inform our customers, including the defendant in this (California) case, of this obligation prior to doing any work. To be clear: Geek Squad does not work for the FBI and never has."

The FBI declined to comment.