There are some places that you just do not expect issues of constitutional criminal law to pop up. Your local big box retailer is probably one of them. But it seems like large electronics retailer Best Buy is finding itself in a controversy involving the FBI, the constitution, and individual rights.
Man Has Information Reported to FBI
The case began when a man brought his computer into Best Buy’s “geek squad.” The Geek Squad is the name Best Buy gives to the in-store service that repairs and fixes people’s computers and laptops.
A technician for Best Buy noticed that the computer he was fixing for the man appeared to have illegal child pornography on it. The FBI was called, and criminal charges were brought against the man.
This is not the first time a computer technician has called the police; it is not uncommon for repair people who observe illegal items on a computer to call law enforcement, and there is nothing illegal about doing so. To some extent, we all must expect the loss of some privacy when handing our computer over to someone else for repairs.
The Relationship with the FBI
What makes the case unique, though, is that it was later uncovered that Best Buy may have allegedly had an ongoing agreement with the FBI, to report anybody with suspicious materials on their computers.
Documents uncovered in a lawsuit allege that there were meetings between Best Buy employees and FBO cyber crime law enforcement, and payments to Best Buy for their services by the FBI.
Private Companies and the Constitution
If true, what is problematic about this arrangement is the constitutionality of Best Buy employees searching people’s computers.
Normally, a private company like Best Buy does not have to abide by the constitution as the constitution generally only governs the behavior of government agencies and officials. It may be illegal for other reasons when private companies search your stuff, but it is not unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the man charged with the crime allege that Best Buy’s relationship with the FBI was so cozy and so intertwined, that it in effect transformed Best Buy into an arm of the government. When private companies work close enough in concert with government entities, the private companies can have constitutional duties just as governments do.
Thus, the argument is that just like law enforcement could not go through someone’s computer without running afoul of the fourth amendment, neither could Best Buy in this case.
How Was the Information Found?
Even if Best Buy is an arm of the government as alleged by virtue of working so closely with the FBI, the issue becomes whether the illegal information was found accidentally or whether Best Buy employees went searching through the computer for it.
Accidentally coming across something illegal would not be unconstitutional, as it would not be a “search.” Rummaging through computer files and searching parts of the data that have nothing to do with what the Best Buy employees were hired to do, with the intent of aiding the FBI, could certainly be considered a search that requires a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.
Protect your constitutional rights if you are facing criminal charges. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights if you are arrested or charged with a crime.