The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the FBI for the purpose of obtaining documents that reveal more details about the Bureau's close relationship with Geek Squad, a Best Buy division specialized in computer repairs.
The EFF's lawsuit stems from the revelations made during the USA vs. Rettenmaier case, during which the defendant's lawyers have revealed details about a secret collaboration between the FBI and some Geek Squad employees.
Rettenmaier legal team discovered that the FBI had spent years training and supplying tools to Geek Squad employees, who then used them to intentionally search people's computers for what may account as illegal content.
Lawyers argued that the FBI was using their Geek Squad contacts to bypass the Fourth Amendment and search people's data without probable cause, intruding on a person's right to privacy.
Furthermore, Rettenmaier's team discovered that the FBI was paying Geek Squad employees who found "useful" data. Employees received between $500 and $1,000, albeit not all accepted the FBI's payments.
These practices have been confirmed at the Geek Squad office in Brooks, Kentucky. The EFF is now seeking FBI documents that will provide more insight on how widespread the FBI's practice is.
The FBI's case against Rettenmaier — accused of possessing child pornography content — is falling apart, which may also help the EFF in its quest to convince a judge to order the release documents related to the FBI's collaboration with Geek Squad.
For example, the alleged child abuse image found on Rettenmaier's hard drive was actually a small thumbnail stored on the HDD's unallocated space, with no details from where it originated. Furthermore, the image didn't contain any sexually explicit contnet and was known to be a screenshot from a publicly available child abuse video.
Earlier this month, the judge ruled that it was OK for Geek Squad employees to search Rettenmaier's hard drive because he gave written and verbal consent.
Nonetheless, the judge also decided to throw out a lot of evidence after he discovered the FBI had misconstrued the evidence discovered by Geek Squad employees, just to obtain a search warrant for Rettenmaier's home and smartphone.
Based on the Rettenmaier case's findings, the EFF's talented legal squad is now arguing that Geek Squad informants, because they received training, tools, and payment, can be qualified as "agents of the government."
This would mean that despite a customer's verbal and written agreement, Geek Squad employees can't just start searching users' data without probable cause or a search warrant.
By requesting more information on this program, the EFF is preparing to mount a legal defense against the FBI's new practice of using Geek Squad employees as an extension of its agents core, and as a way to avoid the legal due process.
"We think that the FBI's use of Geek Squad informants is not an isolated event. Rather, it is a regular investigative tactic law enforcement employ to obtain digital evidence without first getting a warrant as the Fourth Amendment generally requires," said EFF experts Stephanie Lacambra and Aaron Mackey. The EFF vs DOJ complaint is here.