Constitutional Law, Pornography, Privacy, Technology

Child Porn Found by the Geek Squad Can and Will Be Used Against You in a Court of Law

A Geek Squad employee lives in my neighborhood!

Should there be a siren on that car?

Tech-savvy people who love porn seem to know that one can avoid trouble by keeping the dirty stuff on an external hard drive (an effective tactic, except if you’re an SEC lawyer).

Non-tech-savvy people don’t think about this. And those same people are the types who take their laptops to the Geek Squad when they need computer help. Such a trip to Best Buy led to a 10-year prison sentence for Alabama resident Corey Beantee Melton.

In 2005, Melton sought the help of Best Buy’s Geek Squad because he was having trouble connecting to the Internet. Their initial assessment indicated the problem was originating from Melton’s DVD drive, so he left his laptop in their care and went on his merry way.

When the Geeks did their diagnostic scans of the computer, they found a pesky virus that appeared to be linked to specific files on Melton’s computer. Those particular files had names of a “very explicit nature,” says a judicial opinion in the case (hat tip: Eric Goldman for sending the opinion my way — see an old post of his for examples of filenames of an explicit nature).

The Geeks freaked — and called in the boys in blue, as they suspected they’d found child porn…

It’s certainly not the first or only time store clerks have become self-deputized child porn inspectors. An Arizona couple got into a nightmare of trouble when film developers at Wal-Mart reported them after they dropped off family photos that featured kiddie bath time pictures.

When law enforcement was called in at Best Buy, officers asked the Geek Squad to open the files and determined that they were indeed pornographic — including a video of an underage girl going down on an over-age guy. The po-po confiscated the computer. The case went to trial. Melton denied consciously downloading any of the child porn, suggesting that it was somehow placed there during peer-to-peer file sharing. He was found guilty, though, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He appealed the case on Fourth Amendment grounds, claiming that the police search of his computer at Best Buy was unconstitutional. In its decision, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals spelled out exactly how much privacy to expect for explicit files when you hand your computer over to the Geek Squad. The takeaway: Childporn.jpg will lead to trouble, but Lovelychild.jpg probably won’t.

Read on at Forbes.com….

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