When a man took his computer to Best Buy, he never expected to be federally prosecuted for child pornography. Apparently, the computer sales and repair chain has a policy of forwarding suspected child porn straight to the FBI. Luckily for him, a federal judge has suppressed that evidence.
Often, when third parties discover evidence, courts examine whether they were in cahoots with law enforcement. As you should know, the government is only allowed to perform searches and seizures that are objectively reasonable. When they step over the line, the evidence can be suppressed because the government isn’t allowed to use evidence it obtained through unconstitutional actions.
Unreasonable searches by private citizens don’t necessarily result in evidence being excluded. If a private citizen or company were to use tactics to obtain evidence that the police aren’t allowed to use, the evidence would not be tainted by the government’s actions. However, if the private party was actively cooperating with law enforcement, that party’s wrongdoing can be attributed to the government. In other words, law enforcement can’t bring in a “straw” private party to do its dirty work.
So, it was of great interest when a federal judge ruled that Best Buy had been cooperating closely enough with the government that evidence it collected could be suppressed. He had previously ruled that some Best Buy technicians were so cozy with the FBI that they received payments for being sources.
However, that is not the reason the judge suppressed the evidence in this case.
Instead, the judge reasoned that anyone using Best Buy’s Geek Squad ought to know about their policy of working with the FBI. It’s right in the paperwork you sign.
The evidence was still suppressed, however. Even with the assistance of Best Buy’s Kentucky data recovery facility, the FBI still flubbed the search. First, according to the ABA Journal, they used misleading information to obtain a search warrant of the man’s computer.
Also, the questionable photograph was found in “unallocated space” within the computer’s hard drive — an area that can only be reached using special tools. It wasn’t in an area where the man would necessarily have even known about it.
Finally, and most importantly, the judge ruled that the photograph the Geek Squad found wasn’t child pornography at all.
Prosecutors are considering their options.