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The recent case of a California doctor charged with having child pornography on his computer has brought to light a larger issue of relationships between Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and members of Best Buy's Geek Squad who repair and service customer computers. Technicians have reportedly been paid by the FBI when they turn over child porn they discover on customers' computers.

The propriety of paying these employees and the admissibility of this evidence in court is being debated. Are customers' rights to unreasonable searches being violated by this practice? Further, does payment of these employees by the FBI make them de facto government agents, and do they therefore require a warrant or consent of the owner to search a computer's hard drive?

The practice can affect people anywhere in the U.S. Attorneys for the doctor in this case found that a small group of technicians in a Best Buy repair center that services computers from throughout the country were acting as "confidential human sources" for the FBI. That center handles repairs when customers want the information on their hard drive saved or recovered during the repair process.

Federal prosecutors have argued that when a technician "stumbles across images of child pornography" during the course of his or her job, "the technician is clearly not performing the search with the intent of assisting law enforcement efforts." However, emails between sources and agents discussing their efforts to root out child porn have been uncovered. One defense attorney described the relationship between the sources and agents as a "cozy" one.

Best Buy has pointed out that customers sign a consent form when they turn over their computers to the Geek Squad that makes them aware that such images, if discovered, will be turned over to authorities. In a statement, the company contended, "Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI."

The statement added, "From time to time, our repair agents discover material that may be child pornography and we have a legal and moral obligation to turn that material over to law enforcement. We are proud of our policy and share it with our customers before we begin any repair."

Anyone facing child pornography charges based on images found by a repair technician should seek experienced legal guidance from a Georgia defense attorney to help ensure that his or her rights are protected.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Ties between Best Buy's Geek Squad, FBI probed in child porn case," Tom Jackson, The Washington Post, Jan. 09, 2017

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