You may have seen a recent article in The Washington Post discussing the fact that Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” has been turning over evidence of criminal behavior, e.g. “child pornography” to the FBI when they run across this information in the course of repairing a computer.
While Maryland law requires that certain professionals report issues of abuse to the authorities, there is no statute that authorizes or requires repair technicians to do the same. For instance, when a pediatrician notices evidence of physical child abuse, he/she must turn this information over to the proper authorities.
Typically, if the FBI or the local police have reason to believe that someone is dealing in child pornography, they must obtain a search warrant before seizing and examining the hard drive. All search warrants require that a judge make a preliminary ruling that there is sufficient evidence for the police to take this next and most drastic step in their investigation.
However, lawyers for an individual charged as a result of such “tips” are contesting the validity of his client’s arrest. To my knowledge, this is not an issue that has been raised in the State of Maryland so we will have to follow this matter closely. However, the lesson to be learned is simply that whenever your computer goes “out of your hands”, you run the risk of any information contained on your hard drive becoming either public knowledge or be disseminated to the government.