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BestBuy, Geek Squad and The FBI

Francisco Saravia

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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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Local

Checks vs procards and animal control vs coyotes at City Council

Thomas Clatterbuck

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The Springfield City Council covered a wide range of topics at last night’s meeting. At the request of Alderman Hanauer, Budget Director Bill McCarty gave a presentation on the use of procurement cards by city employees. Also known as procards, these cards are analogous to credit or debit cards for the city. According to McCarty, procards are much cheaper and faster for the city than checks. The savings from just the removal of physical checks runs in the tens of thousands of dollars, not including the time savings.

Despite these savings, some of the aldermen had concerns about how the cards were being used. Hanauer discussed the purchase of computers that he felt was not following best practice. He also asked why there were not more master contracts for repeat purchases. Alderman Redpath echoed these sentiments, and said that the spending was a concern.

McCarty answered by saying that the issue was with individuals, rather than the payment tool. Money is tight for the city, and it is up to supervisors and directors to make sure that spending is done appropriately. New accountability tools make oversight easier with procards, including a requirement for justifying non-local purchases.  On the computer question specifically, McCarty said he defers to the subject matter experts when it comes to task-specific purchases.

Rezoning for a tavern

One request in the zoning agenda sparked a serious debate about the role of city government in regulating the local economy. The owners of Famous Liquors wanted to rezone their property for a different type of business. This change would allow them to open a tavern in the same location, which would in turn allow them to add video gaming. Video gaming is typically quite profitable, but only some types of businesses are allowed to operate gaming machines.

Alderman McMenamin voiced concerns about expanding video gaming further in the Wabash area. He noted that Springfield already has the highest density of video gaming of any city in Illinois, and worried about the impact adding another location would have on other businesses. Famous Liquors countered, saying they only wanted the right to compete on an even playing field, and the city had no right to pick winners and losers this way.

After a lengthy debate, the council eventually sided with the store and approved the rezoning 7-1-1; with McMenamin voting against and Fulgenzi voting present.

The coyote issue

Several Aldermen brought up the recent coyote sightings in the city. Despite being smaller than wolves and even some dog breeds, coyotes are still dangerous predators. As the city expands, the aldermen wanted to know what animal control can do about them.

Unfortunately, because coyotes are true wild animals, the answer is not much. Animal control is designed to handle stray pets and smaller animals. This is frustrating for residents, because finding someone who can deal with a coyote is often a challenge. The Council discussed strategies animal control could adopt and partnerships with the Department of Natural Resources to better handle this situation in the future.

The Lincoln Interment Books

The lawyers are still working out the final agreement between Oak Ridge Cemetery and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library about the fate of the Interment Books. Retaining ownership of the book that logs Lincoln’s interment in the cemetery is critical to the city, and so they are being particularly careful with what they actually agree to. The books are being “loaned” to the library, not “deposited” there. This may be a distinction without a difference, it is easier to lose ownership of deposited items.

Groups Recognized

The Mayor recognized the Grant Middle School track team, which recently took first place at their state content. He also recognized the Bicycle Advisory Council for helping make the city more bike and pedestrian friendly.

Dentists from the ISDS Foundation discussed the upcoming Mission of Mercy. The Mission will provide free dental care to Springfield residents who may not otherwise have access to a dentist. This event will be discussed more in a dedicated article.

You can watch the full meeting in the player above.

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Trump: “I’ll be signing something” to “keep families together”

Staff Contributor

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President Trump says he will sign an executive order this Wednesday afternoon ending family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Justice Department officials working on executive action to end immigrant family separation of children at border “We still have to maintain toughness or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for and that we don’t want,” Mr. Trump said during a Wednesday meeting with members of Congress at the White House. “So I’m going to be signing an executive order in a little while before I go to Minnesota. But at the same time I think you have to understand we are keeping families together, but we have to keep our borders strong.”

He called the measure “somewhat preemptive” but called on Congress to work towards a more permanent fix on the issue, saying that perhaps a more comprehensive immigration reform bill– one that may tackle the family separation issue, while also addressing security concerns, etc.– may be possible.

“Beyond this one problem of immigration— you can mention the word ‘comprehensive’ or you don’t have to use it,” Mr. Trump said. “A lot of politicians don’t like the word ‘comprehensive immigration reform,’ but I really think we have an opportunity to do the whole immigration picture and that’s what I’m looking to do ultimately. But right now we want to fix this problem and I think we’ll be able to do that.”

With this, he also called on Democrats for support.

“They really would like to have open borders where they can just flow in,” Mr. Trump said of congressional Democrats.

Family separation has seen a recent uptick due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal entry at the U.S.-Mexico border. Because any illegal border crossing is prosecuted, parents and children are separated during the legal process.

The president said child smugglers, which he cited as a major reason behind that parent-child separation policy Tuesday, “use these children as passports to get into the country.”

Addressing Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence spoke publicly on the issue for the first time at the meeting, ultimately echoing Mr. Trump’s call for Congress to address family separation by a more permanent means.

“We don’t want families to be separated,” Pence said. “We don’t want children taken away from parents, but right now under the law, as we sit with these law makers, we only have two choices before us: number one, don’t prosecute people who come into our country illegally. Or, prosecute them and then under court cases and the law, they have to be separated from their children.”

Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were present at the White House meeting as well.

Mr. Trump also announced that he will be cancelling the congressional picnic Thursday, saying that it “didn’t feel right” to host the gathering while lawmakers and the administration work towards a solution on immigraiton.

“We want to solve this immigration problem,” Mr. Trump said.

This meeting marks Mr. Trump’s second meeting with Congress this week, following his meeting with House GOP members Tuesday, in the midst of a backlash over the separation of immigrant children from their parents who enter the country illegally through the southern border.

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Education

School district leaders ask Rauner to veto $40,000 teacher pay mandate

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A group of school district leaders is urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to veto a bill that would require a $40,000 starting salary for teachers by 2022.

The Illinois School Management Alliance said the unfunded mandate would result in layoffs, dismissals and program cuts.

Senate Bill 2892 passed both chambers last month. State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, sponsored the bill.

“If we don’t guarantee a salary for a college graduate, we’re not going to get the right folks to go into the teaching profession in the first place,” he said.

Other supporters of the measure said the minimum salary will help attract teachers to Illinois, which some say has a shortage of qualified teachers. The bill would require schools to pay teachers an annual wage of at least $40,000 by the 2022-23 school year. Starting next year, the minimum salary would be $32,076. Once starting salaries hit $40,000 in the 2022-23 school year, the minimum salary rate would continue to increase yearly at the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, subject to review by the General Assembly.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers said on its website that the union “was a vocal advocate” of the bill’s passage.

In a letter sent to Rauner on Friday, the Illinois School Management Alliance asked the governor to veto the bill because it would be a costly mandate.

“Though the increase is phased in, it will be a substantial unfunded mandate on local school districts that will consume much or all of any new funding benefit school districts receive from the commitment to the new evidence-based funding formula,” Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance’s Deanna Sullivan said in the letter provided to Illinois News Network.

The Illinois School Management Alliance represents the state’s associations of School Administrators, School Business Officials, School Boards and Principals Association.

The statewide average salary for teachers in Illinois in 2017 was $64,516, according to the Illinois Report Card. Nationally, the average salary for public school teachers in 2015–16 was $58,064, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

While the bill wouldn’t affect many Chicago and suburban-area school districts, many in southern Illinois would have to increase pay for teachers. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than 500 schools would have to increase their beginning pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree, some by more than $10,000 over the next four years.

Before voting against the bill last month, state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the minimum salary requirement would force districts to cut other school offerings, like sports.

“Those are the choices that your school officials back home are going to have to deal with if we say, ‘By the way, you’re going to have to pay everyone at least $40,000,’” Righter said.

Sullivan’s letter to the governor echoed that sentiment.

“A top-down approach to mandate a minimum salary for one group of employees within the school setting, without fully funding the increases, will cause layoffs, dismissals, and program cuts across the board in Illinois schools,” the letter said. “Additionally, programs required to meet state and federal education standards will suffer as there will not be enough qualified staff or programming to meet student needs.”

Asked about the issue at two different events last week, Rauner said he wants to see teachers earn more but “get the mandates off from Springfield.”

“We have too many regulations, too many unfunded mandates, too many restrictions on how our teachers teach,” Rauner said in Belleville last week. “Get the mandates off. Get more local control and we’ll have the money to be able to pay our teachers more.”

At a stop in Urbana, Rauner said locally elected school boards should determine how much teachers are paid.

“Let schools run their districts as they see fit,” he said. “Get the mandates off and that will free up resources as well. That’s the way we’ll get more money.”

The bill could be sent to the governor’s desk by the end of this month. Once he has it, Rauner will have 60 days to either change the bill, veto it outright or sign it into law.

The measure passed the Senate with enough votes for a possible override, but didn’t pass the House with the required super majority needed for an override if Rauner were to veto the bill.

Article by Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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