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Pornography case spotlights link between Best Buy and the FBI

It is certainly well understood by most people that going online to view or download illegal pornography is a high-risk activity. The potential consequences of that can be flatly draconian for an individual in North Carolina or elsewhere whose computer is seized by criminal authorities.

Child pornography is the focal point of state, federal and global efforts undertaken by task forces intent on identifying and prosecuting illegal activity, with media accounts routinely revealing the sophisticated techniques employed by law enforcers and the vast amount of resources allocated for their efforts.

And when a public spotlight is placed upon an investigative strategy or specific activities engaged in by the FBI or other agencies, it sometimes reveals tactics that a wide swath of the general public might reasonably regard as troubling, if not outright unlawful.

A case that is currently generating considerable national interest well demonstrates the point.

Its centrally revealed bottom line, as noted in one prominent publication: Evidence indicates that the FBI has had "a long-running relationship" with a number of Best Buy workers employed in the company's so-called "Geek Squad" department, quietly paying them when they contact the agency with information regarding pornographic images on customers' computers being serviced.

In other words, they are informers.

Is that legal?

Many commentators find the practice -- one defense attorney terms the relationship "cozy" -- to be fundamentally disturbing, with materially adverse implications for public privacy and the protection of bedrock constitutional principles regarding lawful search and seizure.

The judge in the above-cited case recently granted a defendant's legal team permission to fully probe the specifics and dimensions of the FBI/Best Buy relationship. Although a Best Buy spokesperson says that the company has "no relationship" with the FBI, evidence that has emerged strongly indicates that a number of repair technicians have been in touch with the agency over a several-year period.

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