Privacy and Computer Repair

According to Best Buy, many state governments require computer service personnel to report potentially illegal content that they find on computers they are asked to fix.

“We have a moral and, in more than 20 states, a legal obligation to report these findings to law enforcement,” the company wrote. “We share this policy with our customers in writing before we begin any repair.” (1)

The issue arose in 2017 when a California doctor was accused of having child porn after taking his computer to the Geek Squad at Best Buy for repair. The article says that they average around 100 such reports per year.

What’s new is the surfacing of a document in which the FBI offered cash to Geek Squad employees for scanning customer computers for illegal content. At least four employees are known to have been paid under this offer, which started in 2008.

Best Buy claims it is unaware of any others receiving cash from the FBI, although that seems unlikely. The FBI has refused comment.

The document came to light under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Foundation’s argument is that Geek Squad members are acting on behalf of the FBI and what they find is a violation of the computer owners 4th Amendment rights. The EFF is checking to see if other computer repair services have similar arrangements with the FBI.

Here’s the 4th Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Anyway, if you have electronic material you don’t want others to see, it is best to have it on an external hard drive rather than on your desktop, notebook or tablet computer. Anything connected to the internet can be hacked. And now we know that anything you have is fair game if your computer needs service.




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