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Is Geek Squad ‘Inadvertently’ Stumbling Across Images? They Say ‘Yep’. I call ‘Bullshit’.

Photo courtesy Electronic Frontier Foundation

Though I’ve been following this story at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website (see Geek Squad’s Relationship with FBI Is Cozier Than We Thought) it was today’s Ars Technica article that really got my blood boiling (see Best Buy defends practice of informing FBI about child porn it finds).

“In a statement sent to Ars on Tuesday, Best Buy wrote that it continues to “discover what appears to be child pornography on customers’ computers nearly 100 times a year. Our employees do not search for this material; they inadvertently discover it when attempting to confirm we have recovered lost customer data.”

Inadvertently? Bullshit.

While I’m the last guy to defend anyone who has child porn they’ve gathered and stored on their computer or device the big issue is this: Best Buy **must be** using forensic tools to actively search the entire hard drive — including cached images — and then Geek Squad humans ARE ACTIVELY VIEWING every .jpg, .png, or raw image on the computer or device and getting paid to do it!

Otherwise, how else could they possibly determine something is “child porn” without looking at it?

On my main computer (and external hard drives) I have nearly 50,000 images I’ve taken, scanned, or my family has taken and I’m storing them in a central location (and, before you ask, there is NO porn…child or otherwise). If you were a Geek Squad worker, there is no way you could be recovering one of my hard drives and have a clue what those images are, unless you looked at them OR had a forensic tool that enabled you to find every image on a computer or device so you could skim through them.

That EFF article had this to say about Geek Squad using forensic tools (my emphasis):

But some evidence in the case appears to show Geek Squad employees did make an affirmative effort to identify illegal material. For example, the image found on Rettenmaier’s hard drive was in an unallocated space, which typically requires forensic software to find. Other evidence showed that Geek Squad employees were financially rewarded for finding child pornography. Such a bounty would likely encourage Geek Squad employees to actively sweep for suspicious content.

Even if a computer owner inadvertently ends up on a website that has such images — by following some link and then takes their computer in for Geek Squad service — those images are in the browser cache so that person could be instantly branded a child porn lover or pedophile and turned over to the FBI. Unless you are smart enough to use FileVault on the Mac or TrueCrypt for Linux or PC and encrypt your drives (like I do), they can see anything-and-everything once recovered.

What if a rogue Geek Squad person looked at your important documents? Maybe copying down account or social security numbers, poking through email text files, or otherwise digging through all your digital files when your computer or device was in there for repair? 

Remember: Defending against illegal searches and seizures means forcing law enforcement to abide by the Constitution and get a warrant. Not pay-off or otherwise coerce a company’s employees to do the FBI’s illegal forensic for them.

Especially when everyone knows that if an illegal search and seizure is labeled an investigation in to “child porn” or “terrorism” then the stupid usually rollover and let law enforcement do whatever they want unless you, like I do, find this practice and Best Buy collusion an illegal search and seizure (especially since the FBI paid them to do it) and get mad about it and take some action.

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About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

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