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FBI Paid Best Buy's Geek Squad Employees To Turn Over Customer Data

(KPIX 5) -- Details have emerged on a secret relationship between the FBI and one of the country's biggest computer retailers.

Before you head off to your local Best Buy to drop off that busted laptop at the Geek Squad for repair, the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco says there's something you ought to know.

The foundation sued the FBI to release nearly 200 pages of information about its relationship with Best Buy.

It took several months, but the FBI finally turned over redacted documents to the EFF.

Best Buy has confirmed that four Geek Squad employees accepted payment from the FBI for turning over alleged child pornography. The company said it was very poor judgment and a violation of company policy. Three of those employees are no longer with the company.

But the relationship between the FBI and Best Buy goes back 10 years, raising questions about the extent that the FBI trains and controls the Geek Squad.

"We're very concerned about the FBI using Geek Squad employees or any computer repair facility employees to potentially, you know, get a back door around our Fourth Amendment rights," said Aaron Mackey, staff attorney with the EFF.

Back in 2011, a Southern California doctor dropped off his laptop at a Best Buy. That laptop went to the company's main repair facility in Nashville where a technician found child porn on the computer and reported it to the FBI, which then searched his home. The doctor was later indicted for possession of child porn.

A federal judge dismissed all charges against the Southern California doctor, saying the FBI provided false and misleading statements to obtain a search warrant.

According to court documents, in 2008 Best Buy invited the FBI for a tour of its Louisville, Kentucky facility, called Geek Squad City, a massive 4-acre warehouse, that receives repairs from nearly 1,000 stores, fixing upwards of 16,000 laptops a week.

The FBI summarized that meeting by writing "the Louisville Division has maintained close liaison with the Geek Squad's management in an effort to glean case initiations and to support the division's computer intrusion and cyber-crime programs."

What's more, an FBI payment request shows the agency paid $500 to a Geek Squad employee.

Mackey said, "When the FBI is actually rewarding employees of Best Buy for finding this information and potentially directing them and engaging in sort of an ongoing, multi-year relationship with managers and others at this facility, it raises the question as to how much are they now just employees and technicians at Best Buy doing their job and happening across this or are they actively searching for it in the hopes of obtaining future rewards."

The EFF says the FBI paying a Best Buy employee to search through customer hard drives is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Best Buy issued a statement, saying, "Our employees do not search for this material; they inadvertently discover it …We have a moral and, in more than 20 states, a legal obligation to report these findings to law enforcement. We share this policy with our customers in writing before we begin any repair."

The FBI said they do not comment on their relationships with their informants.

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