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BestBuy, Geek Squad and The FBI

Francisco Saravia



At a Geek Squad in Brooks, KY., Geek Squad like in any other city works on computers owned by people, accessing them to retrieve lost data. According to the Washington Post over several years, a handful of those workers have notified the FBI when they see signs of child pornography, earning payments from the agency.

Looks like this was revealed after a small group of informants within the country’s most popular computer repair services alerted the FBI about a hard drive that was being inspected. The case in California about a Doctor who is facing federal charges due to one of the technicians flagging the suspected hard drive. The Doctor’s lawyers found that the FBI had about 8 “confidential human sources” in the Geek Squad over a four-year period. According to a judge’s order in the case, with all of them receiving some type of payment. This also makes me wonder at how many other Geek Squad repair centers this is happening.

The case raises issues about privacy and the government use of informants. If a client turns over their computer for inspection and or repair, do they immediately forfeit their expectation of privacy, and their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches? and if the Geek Squad or informant gets paid, does it compromise the credibility? or effectively convert them into an agent of the government?

When  a hired Geek Squad agent  is assigned to work on a computer it is completely legal – the customer authorized it, and the law apparently does not prohibit private searches. From my personal experience working at the Geek Squad there are a number of steps that go unsupervised by management. I could plug in your hard drive and look at your data, make copies, etc. In fact it is very common; especially if you are trying to retrieve data from the hard drive because the customer requested it and move it to a new hard drive. Which was probably one of the most common repairs I performed, because hard drives last about 5-7  years.

One would assume, that if Best Buy serves as an arm of the government (with paid informants), then a warrant or specific consent is needed.  A federal judge in the child pornography case against Mark Rettenmaier is going to allow the defense attorneys to prove the relationships between the FBI and Best Buy at a hearing in L.A starting Wednesday. Looks like the FBI and the Geek Squad have a very friendly relationship that it turns repairs by a Geek Squad Technician into a mass government searches.  If the informants move from 8 to 80, or too 800. Could it be that they are going to set up a informant network between private IT companies and the FBI ? Does this activity stop at Best Buy… what about other global communications companies like Facebook, Google, etc. It would be naive to think this activity isn’t happening at a bigger scale.

Best Buy spokesman Jeff Shelman said in a statement Monday that “Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI. 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.” Shelman added, “Any circumstances in which an employee received payment from the FBI is the result of extremely poor individual judgment, is not something we tolerate and is certainly not a part of our normal business behavior.”

The case started in November 2011, when Rettenmaier, a gynecological oncologist in Orange County, Calif., took his HP Pavilion desktop to the Best Buy in Mission Viejo, Calif., because it wouldn’t boot up. The technicians at the store told him he had a faulty hard drive. If he wanted to retain information from the hard drive, he would need the Geek Squad’s data recovery services in Kentucky. Then Rettenmaier signed a service order that prosecutors argue “waived any right to raise a Fourth Amendment claim” because it contained the admonition: “I am on notice that any product containing child pornography will be turned over to the authorities.”

Rettenmaier’s hard drive was shipped to Geek Squad City in Brooks, Ky., a suburb of Louisville. In December 2011, one of Meade’s technicians located a photo that Riddet described as a nude prepubescent girl on a bed. In January 2012, court records show Meade emailed Agent Riley in Louisville and said, “We have another one out of California we want you to take a look at, when can you swing by?”

EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit last year to learn more about how the FBI uses Geek Squad employees to flag illegal material when people pay Best Buy to repair their computers. The relationship potentially circumvents computer owners’ Fourth Amendment rights.

This is where it gets interesting. The search of Rettenmaier’s hard drive has a further wrinkle. The image was located on “unallocated space,” which is where deleted items reside on a computer until they are overwritten when the space is needed. Unallocated space is not easily accessed — it requires special forensic software. Prosecutors said that the Geek Squad technician who searched the unallocated space was merely trying to recover all the data Rettenmaier had asked to be restored. Riddet argued that the technician was going beyond the regular search to deleted material to find evidence the FBI might want. In addition, a federal appeals court has ruled that pornography found on unallocated space is insufficient to prove that the user possessed it, since information about when it was accessed, altered or deleted is no longer available. “There was no evidence of how the contraband got onto Dr. Rettenmaier’s hard drive,” Riddet wrote, “and it could have gotten there before he possessed the computer or against his will.”

Although these documents provide new details about the FBI’s connection to Geek Squad and its Kentucky repair facility, the FBI has withheld a number of other documents in response to our FOIA suit. Worse, the FBI has refused to confirm or deny to EFF whether it has similar relationships with other computer repair facilities or businesses, despite our FOIA specifically requesting those records. The FBI has also failed to produce documents that would show whether the agency has any internal procedures or training materials that govern when agents seek to cultivate informants at computer repair facilities.

Stan Goldman, a law professor at Loyola Law School, likened Best Buy’s search to the “plain view” doctrine for police: If officers can see something in plain view, they have reason to search or seize it. “Whatever they see while searching within the scope of what they were asked to do would be admissible, in my view,” Goldman said. “If they start searching on their own, they’ve gone beyond what is ‘plain view.’ ” He said what a customer consents to when ordering the work is crucial. “Have people actually understood that they’ve agreed to have their entire computer searched? I don’t think so, but you can’t be 100 percent certain.” You can read the case documents produced so far here and here. Quotes and data Source.

I am a driven, curious, and innovative bilingual technologist and serial entrepreneur. Passionate about technology and how the web, social media, computer and mobile devices work together. Beta tester for Google Maps, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Google, Facebook, Instagram and Android System Webview which is driving progressive web apps & android instant apps. Co-Founder of FitTube, SpringfieldDaily & SpringfieldAuction + many more!

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Illinois’ bicentennial beer now on shelves



Images from Hand of Fate Brewing Company Facebook Page

The latest birthday gift to the people of Illinois comes in a 12-ounce can – the state’s bicentennial beer is now on store shelves.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and members of the state’s Bicentennial Commission cracked the first cans of the 1818 Prairie State Farmhouse Ale on Wednesday in Springfield.

The governor said not only is the beer good, it shows what can still be made in the state.

“This year, we celebrate our 200th birthday,” the governor said. “We’ll celebrate our bicentennial by celebrating everything that is born, built and grown in the great state of Illinois.”

The beer is brewed by the Hand of Fate Brewing Co. out of Petersburg.

It won a competition at last year’s Illinois State Fair to become Illinois’ official 200th birthday beer.

Hand of Fate owner Mike Allison said he’s happy to have his relatively new success story be part of Illinois’ long legacy.

“It’s overwhelming, and a little bit mind blowing, to think that two years ago we were just opening a small brewery,” Allison said.

Allison said 1818 Prairie State Farmhouse Ale uses Illinois crops including corn, wheat and oats.

Reviews say the beer has some aromatic nose bursts with bubblegum, clove and white peppercorn.

Article by Benjamin Yount. For more Illinois News Network content, visit 

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2018 Election

Morgan County League of Women of Voters hold candidate forum in Jacksonville

Thomas Clatterbuck



from left: Rients, Miller, Deters, Rodriguez, Petty, Johnson, Carmody, Davidsmeyer

Nearly all candidates in contested races in Morgan County came out to attend one of the last forums before the March 20th primary. They answered questions in a packed Jacksonville City Council chamber. Over 50 people were in attendance.

Of the nine candidates invited, only Rep. Darin LaHood was unable to attend. He is currently serving in Washington. The candidates who could make it included:

  • Donald Rients, a Republican running in the 18th Congressional District
  • Darrel Miller, a Democrat running in the 18th
  • Brian Deters, a Democrat running in the 18th
  • Junius Rodriguez, a Democrat running in the 18th
  • Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, a Republican running in the 100th Illinois House District
  • Jonas Petty, a Republican running in the 100th Illinois House District
  • Chris “CJ” Johnson, a Republican running for Morgan County Sheriff
  • Mike Carmody, a Republican running for Morgan County Sheriff

There were few surprises from any of the candidates on any of the questions. However there were some. Both Miller and Deters expressed pro-life sentiments for their personal views; but were pro-choice from a policy standpoint. On the same question about the sanctity of life, Petty said we need to get the root of the abortion issue, and supported better economic opportunities and sex education to reduce abortions.

Both Sheriff candidates also expressed concerns about body cameras. While they saw the utility, they spoke about how unclear the law is at this point. This includes protecting suspects’ and other individuals’ fourth and fifth amendment rights. Additionally, storing the footage and providing Freedom of Information Act access for the footage is far more expensive than the cameras themselves. But throughout the evening, both said their job was to enforce and follow the law, not to make policy.

All of the candidates opposed a mandate on arming teachers. Rients and Petty were open to the option, and Miller said it was a local issue, not a federal one. Johnson warned about the change of mindset that comes with carrying a firearm and distractions that would cause teachers. Carmody opposed a mandate, but said he would enforce it if it was a law.

To learn more about the candidates in the 18th congressional district or the 100th House district, you can check out our campaign headquarters pages.

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Jacksonville City Council discusses boats, fireworks, and budget

Thomas Clatterbuck



The Jacksonville City Council covered a wide range of topics at their last meeting. Most importantly, they approved the 2018 operating budget, and the ordinance for corporate appropriations. The public hearing for the appropriations ordinance did not receive any public comment.

However, there were several other issues that generated a large amount of discussion. There were calls to put some preliminary restrictions on the size of boats on Lake Jacksonville. The lake suffers from a large amount of erosion each year. In a good year it might lose three feet of shoreline, but in a bad year it might lose as much as eleven feet. Large and fast boats have been blamed for much of the erosion. To help protect the shores, a ban on boats larger than 28 feet (excluding pontoons) was proposed. Similarly sized lakes in the region have restrictions on boat sizes and horsepower.

While there was agreement protecting the shores is important, there was disagreement about the proposed size limit. Boats larger than 28 feet are rare on the lake. Because of this, some of the aldermen questioned the decision to pin the blame on these craft. Horsepower limits were seen as more appropriate for the goal of limiting wake. However, a horsepower limit may negatively impact bass fishing tournaments, as bass boats typically have high horsepower.

Back on land, the speedway has petitioned the city for permission to put on small pyrotechnic displays. These displays would be small and pose no risk to the surrounding communities. The council was not opposed to the idea, but still needs to draft an ordinance for discussion.

The council also had a lengthy discussion about whether or not to place a stop sign at the corner of Michigan and Hardin. South Jacksonville is in favor of the sign. Despite the high traffic in the area, there was only one accident in the last year. One stated goal of the stop sign is to control speed along the road. Alderman Warmowski countered this claim, citing the IDOT handbook which states stop signs should not be placed solely to try to control motorists’ speed. Other aldermen were concerned about possible noise from the large number of trucks that use the road as well.

You can watch both the workshop and chamber sessions below:

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