Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Litigation develops over Geek Squad's reporting of child pornography to FBI, at least from a data recovery center in Kentucky

Tom Jackman has a followup on earlier reports about technicians at the Geek Squad participating in detecting child pornography on computer products turned in to them for repair.  The link for the story on page A14 of the Washington Post today, Tuesday, April 4, 2017 here.

 The main concern is with a repair facility in Brooks KY (near Louisville) where devices and hard drives may be sent for data recovery by customers.  Court papers in a suit by a defendant (a California physician) imply that a few technicians at the Kentucky facility were paid as informants.

Any time a consumer turns in a device for repair at any Best Buy Geek Squad outlet, he or she signs a declaration about being “on notice” that any child pornography found will be turned over to authorities. But the company says technicians are not supposed to look actively for it.

There could be concerns that some images might be legally ambiguous.  For example, could a gratuitous video of the pat down of a pre-teen boy by the TSA be perceived as child pornography by some people?

Again, it’s easy to imagine automated scanning tools looking for watermarked images on a drive or in Cloud storage.

It’s also possible that a virus or malware could place child pornography on a consumer’s device without his or her knowledge.  I wrote a few blog posts about this possibility in the summer of 2013.

These have been rare, but there was at least one report of ransomware which does this in 2014.  The legal environment in the past (more than ten years ago) used to assume “absolute liability” for possession on user computers before law enforcement began to recognize the possibility of malware being a cause.

It’s also possible to be arrested if someone hijacks a home router and uses it to down load traceable (watermarked) child pornography.   The legal responsibility of users for misuse of their own routers is a gray area.  It could become an issue, for example, for people who rent homes out through Airbnb.

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