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The FBI Paid Best Buy’s ‘Geek Squad’ to Spy on Americans

If you’ve ever taken your computer in for service at the GEEK Squad inside your local Best Buy, then you know when you hand over your laptop to the technician, he/she has your entire life in his/her hands. Your search history, your financial accounts, your private emails, and your photo album can all be accessed, copied, deleted, or shared. When you give them your computer, you trust that no one will see your most private matters. However, you’d be wrong.

Several Best Buy employees have now been revealed to be working with the FBI to prosecute pedophiles. And while busting pedophiles is most certainly in everyone’s interests, wholesale invasion of privacy and corporate spying is certainly not.

According to the LA Times, Dr. Mark Albert Rettenmaier, a gynecological oncologist who practiced at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, CA, was indicted on two felony counts of possession of child pornography after he took his hard drive to Best Buy for repair. The drive was then sent to a GEEK Squad repair facility located in Kentucky. There, Justin Meade, a supervisor at the Geek Squad center, found suspicious photos of nude underage girls on the hard drive and contacted the FBI. Meade was then paid $500, but the FBI agent working the case did not indicate for what purpose he was compensated. Tracey Riley, the FBI agent Meade contacted wrote in a statement, “I never asked or ordered Mr. Meade or any Best Buy employee to search for child pornography or gather information on child pornography or any other crimes on my behalf or on behalf of the FBI.” But Rettenmaier’s attorney is calling that statement into question after learning Meade received compensation for his work with the FBI, dating back to 2009.

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“The doctor’s attorney (James Riddet) says the FBI essentially used the employee to perform warrantless searches on electronics that passed through the massive maintenance facility outside Louisville, Ky.,” wrote the LA Times. According to Riddet, since 2009, “the FBI was dealing with a paid agent inside the Geek Squad who was used for the specific purpose of searching clients’ computers for child pornography and other contraband or evidence of crimes.” But those searches are illegal, according to Riddet, because no search warrant was obtained to peruse Rettenmaier’s hard drive. And it’s against Best Buy’s policies to receive compensation from authorities for reporting crimes. It is, however, company policy to report such crimes as the employee deems necessary.

“Meade showed an FBI agent photos on Rettenmaier’s hard drive, and the agent recognized them as child pornography, according to court records. The Geek Squad had to use specialized technical tools to recover the photos because they were either damaged or had been deleted, according to court papers,” the Times states, a fact which is crucial to the defense’s case. If the files were deleted, then they were not being used for nefarious purposes. Also, as the Times writes, “Riddet contends it is impossible to tell when the files were placed on the hard drive or who accessed them,” a fact which does not incriminate his client. But the FBI used the deleted photos, nonetheless, to obtain a “search warrant for Rettenmaier’s Laguna Hills home, which it raided in February 2012, court documents state,” writes the Times.

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While The Free Thought Project has absolutely no sympathy for pedophiles and purveyors of child pornography, we do have a stake in the way the government goes about getting the dirt on private citizens. Meade, who was considered a paid employee of the FBI, used his occupation to gain access to private information, from private computers, and from a private contract to repair said hard drive. The courts will have to decide whether or not Rettenmaier’s privacy was violated, along with his 4th amendment rights to unreasonable searches and seizures, which require a warrant signed by a judge. If Meade was acting in his capacity as an employee of the FBI, the courts will most likely decide Rettenmaier deserves to go to prison. After all, a search of his phone and home turned up a reported 800 photos of nude girls. On the other hand, critics contend the FBI was out of line and should have gotten a warrant to look through the hard drive in question. UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, an expert on constitutional law told the times, “If the government wants to look at somebody’s computer, they need to get a warrant.”

Not acquiring search warrants, using dubious methods to obtain incriminating evidence on suspects, and creating systems which could entrap child pornography users, are just a few of the ways the government has been exposed breaking the law. No wonder people have lost trust in their government. Suspects are no longer innocent until proven guilty. All so-called authorities, working under the auspices of the federal government, must be above board in how they conduct their business, and getting a search warrant builds a stronger case.

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As The Free Thought Project has faithfully reported, the government has a myriad of ways it can spy on people, without warrants. Don’t they realize or do they even care that their methods are contributing to the success or failure of their court cases? If their aim is to put away pedophiles, they need to learn to work within the law. Conflicts of interest arise when informants are paid to dig up dirt on people. The value of the 4th amendment must be protected for all Americans to live in freedom. As for Riddet, he is asking the judge in the case to throw out the evidence against his client because it was gathered without a valid search warrant.

 

  • The Cat’s Vagina

    Actually, it’s pretty difficult to just “stumble upon” someone’s porn collection whilst servicing their computer, unless one of two things holds true:

    A: They’re a TOTAL moron who kept the files stored directly on the damn desktop, or
    B: They were snooping around looking for it.

    I’m so glad my husband is an IT genius, so I never have to take my computer to one of these places. I’ve heard all kinds of slimy stories about “Geek Squad” type perverts going through hard drives and making copies of everything they like. I’m sure more than a few people have been blackmailed by things their computer guy found.

    My point is, if you must take your computer somewhere for repair, DO NOT LEAVE IT THERE and just pick it up when it’s done. Tell them you insist on being present when the work is done and if they ask why, you can either rakishly tell them that you don’t want anyone snooping through your porn, or you can make up a fancy lie. Here’s a good one: my computer contains sensitive, highly confidential work information that has to maintain a strictly supervised chain of custody. That’ll shut ’em right up and while the larger places like Best Buy might tell you to fuck off, the smaller repair shops will play along just to get your business. It might cost a little more and require you to park yourself somewhere with a book or phone for an hour or two, but Skeezio Le Voyeur will settle for just doing his job this once without getting to rifle through your virtual closet.

    • Gloria

      The Cat’s Vagina you must have a lot to hide in your virtual closet but then again with a user name like yours it makes sense that you would.

      • The Cat’s Vagina

        *winks saucily* Judging from your comment history, your virtual closet has cockroaches. You might wanna buy some spray for that!

    • Scott Cross

      leaving it there even a moments time doesn’t mean a person can’t get into someones personal files,. because as a fellow computer person i can assure to you that there are devices/peripherals that can be hooked up to the hard drive to do a full copy from your hard drive to a hard drive they may have on hand to look through at their own time.

  • Razedbywolvs

    That $500 means the Geek now has Means, Motive, Opportunity and the technical skill. Even without the $500 the Geek may have Motive because the customer might be an asshole.
    You cant have a legal system were 1 narc a mouth can make a nice car payment.

  • Parker Gabriel

    George W. Trendle’s and Fran Striker’s stories about the Green Hornet notwithstanding, the law CANNOT be legally enforced by VIOLATING it!
    This holds even MORE true, if anything, for official law-enforcement agencies that are on governmental, and hence ultimately tax-payer, payrolls than it POSSIBLY can for ANY otherwise law-abiding civilian private citizen.

  • palvadore

    This agent and his immediate supervisor (two levels) need to be fired for this act. Then arrested! Law enforcement at all levels must be held accountable for their crimes when violating Constitutional rights.

    • Parker Gabriel

      No greater agreement with this can possibly be lodged.

  • Guy

    Okay, I’m going to play The Devil’s Advocate on this side of the case ! Just don’t hit me too hard for it please !

    I understand about Constitutional Rights. Lord knows we yell loud about them enough, whenever we feel we are getting butt hurt from our friends at the local Fed’s.

    But isn’t it a good thing that a low life scum pedophile was taken out in the process too, as the result of the search of his hard drive ? Come on folks, the guy had over 800 photos of kiddy porn stored on his phone and other stuff at his house, discovered as the result of a “Legal Search Warrant” being issued.

    Slippery slopes and all that included, I think the ends justify the means, sort of in this case, considering the guy could walk, coming from a technicality in the legal process, that a good sharp lawyer can take advantage of all the loopholes that are allowed to him and his client in this case.

    They got Al Capone on a tax evasion charge, that resulted in a really bad “Guy” being sent to prison, that to me, is about as simple as making bread. How is this so much different, considering the long view, that it is about getting guy’s like Capone and this slum roach pedophile off the streets and into prison, where they belong and deserve to be !

    Really nasty crimes are committed by really bad people every day and sometimes, the means used to catch them is just about as bad as well, but necessary to do by our law enforcement, in order to catch and put them away ! Often coming from the result that they are sent to jail, for minor offenses, hardly related to the really bad crap they have been doing and getting away with for years.

    The Geek Squad was just used as a tool in that process !

    • Gloria

      I agree completely!

      • Guy

        Well I glad some body dose. I was starting to lose hope !

    • Steve

      You’re playing russian roulette. It may work once in your favor but if you want to keep taking a spin sooner or later the problem will become clear.

      • Guy

        That’s true ! That’s why it’s called gambling, some time it’s crap’s too ! But it is a double edge sword as well. Just like the cops used recently in D.C. and caged everybody, including press, attorneys and rioters alike, charging them all with felonies, prison time and huge fines, if convicted.

        I am no advocate of either means used. Just a realist that say’s sometime’s hard tactics are necessary is all. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t !

        • Steve

          I think we are talking about the same end result but the means does not necessarily have to be by turning us into informers aka 1984. I suggest public surveillance in public places could help resolve a lot of actions in the process. Even robotic surveillance for privacy issues may one day help stop commissions of crimes before they happen.

  • permalink

    Maybe the common folk should learn to use an “in-private” browser window and delete old emails…

    Of course the first stupid thing is to take your computer somewhere to have it “fixed”.

    Learn to fix it yourself.

    • Parker Gabriel

      That much has already been done here, by this user.

      Technological knowledge comes in handy, does it not?

      • permalink

        Yes

    • JdL

      Learn to fix it yourself.

      Having a skill is useful, but no one can be proficient at more than a tiny fraction of skills the world has to offer. The vast majority of people make a quite reasonable, if not explicitly conscious, calculation that the time needed to learn to fix every computer problem isn’t worth it. It’s much easier to learn how to encrypt things you don’t want prying snoops in the government, and their paid agents, looking at.

      • permalink

        Yes, using encryption is a viable option.

        However, my experience is that normal users are duped into download stupid widgets and toolbars that do nothing but clog up resources of their computers, tablets, and smartphones.

        Then they came to me wanting me to “fix it” for them.

        • JdL

          I hear ya.

          I should add that though I encrypt my most sensitive files, I also don’t take my computer in for repair, even when I don’t immediately know how to fix it. I don’t trust them not to plant malware in it. Paranoid? Maybe, but I like to maintain a clean chain of custody, from the time I buy a computer till it’s retired.

  • UltimateIndictment

    1) If you actually harm a child you should be dealt with legally
    2) If you ever visited an adult site, newsgroups, or peer to peer(P2P) file share most likely you will have CP on your computer from pop ups, unintentional clicks, and If you download porn from P2P you don’t know what you’re getting until you open the file that could be laced with steganography, or CP images from vigilantees or law enforcement itself.
    3) CP is anyone under 18; remember Tracy Lords?
    4) David Finkelhor director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire says, “I see the moral weight of the current CP law, but not the empirical proof”. He believes the LAW should be based on empirical proof; with actual victims. He states child sexual abuse is down 60% from past years contrary to what the child charities say.
    5) Today teenagers have become the major makers of CP. Statistics reveal adolescents outnumbered middle-aged men 2 to 1 as main offenders in child porn production. Youths 10 to 14 were among the alleged offenders.”. The majority of CP on the net are sexting videos, self-produced videos, and images the kids are producing with the cell phone and computer cam’s their parents bought them and they are doing it right from their bedrooms because their parents believe in privacy or they are too lazy to care.
    ( The Heraldsun (2008). “Making child pornography is now kids’ stuff.”).
    6) Each case cost 10’s of thousands of TAX dollars to investigate and MILLIONS to incarcerate. The Department of Justice (DOJ) acknowledged there were 400,000 “known” CPers but the US DOJ is only handling 2% of cases at a cost of $16 million TAX dollars; 98% of the cases are not being investigated or prosecuted.
    7) Child Sexual Abuse is recognized best by trained professionals, concerned neighbors, good friends, close relatives and most of all Parents, school teachers, and school counselors. The job left to the government alone free of the Freedom of Information Act reporting is dangerous; law enforcement, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) the government’s child charity has devoted its existence to stoking the flames of sex panic and should not be in control.
    8) According to the NCMEC, there are more abused children then there are military vets. I know quite a few vets but not one abused child.
    9) Last Year there were 115 child sexual abuse incidents mentioned in the literature, not thousands. ONE Hundred and Fifteen and as horrific as it is law enforcement was UNABLE to stop them.
    10) If you actually hands on harm a child you should be arrested, but arresting people for doing nothing more than look at FREE images that are posted on newsgroups and P2P is ridiculous and costly. It cost TAXpayers MILLIONS and since we are broke they are of borrowed dollars accumulating interest

  • Steve

    There goes any future shopping for me at best hitler youth, uh, i mean best buy. The real answer for stopping this is in exercising where we use our, pardon the pun, “best buying” wallets. Pedophilia is of course a crime but, ironically, it is defined in such a way that it can be subjectively interpreted by enforcement. Of course the other problems of company informants and fourth amendment violations as well as questions about downloads also exist. How many of these informants even agree on the legal definition of pedophilia would be interesting to see. This incident also sends a message that people are not being protected by those on whom they should be able to expect a higher morality or at least a higher professional standard. Since they deliberately justify breaking the law as the means to the end they are no better than criminals. I am for public surveillance in public areas where it can be reasonably expected such as in businesses, at events, schools and other places where it can serve security purposes for immediate public safety. This callous disregard for the privacy and rights of people who are also paying customers involves speculation and possibility but no clear cut evidence. I hope that doctor sues the hell out of best buy. They should be called “squealer squad” and not geek squad or maybe just criminal squad.

  • a guy

    FYI, this has been going on for a long, long time. I worked for the Geek Squad in 2004. We, were put into a back room, and an agent, talked about the dangers of a post 9/11 world, and how important it was we inform them of possible dangers, and we would be rewarded for our service. Mostly, they wanted us to report kiddy porn, file sharing programs, and people looking at terrorist recruiting sites. We were paid, in cash on a pre paid gift card. I didn’t like this, I could see how easily people could be set up, and not even know.