Supreme Court Won't Hear Case Over Computer Tech's Right To Search Your Computer

from the older-ruling-stands dept

A few years back, we wrote about the case where a guy was arrested for possessing child pornography after techs at Circuit City found child porn on his computer, while they were installing a DVD player. The guy insisted that the evidence shouldn’t be admissible since the techs shouldn’t have been snooping through his computer — and a lower court agreed. The appeals court, however, reversed, noting that the guy had given Circuit City the right to do things on his computer — including testing out the newly installed software (which is how the tech claims he found the video). The guy appealed to the Supreme Court, who has declined to hear the case, meaning that the ruling stands for the time being. So, basically, if you hand your computer over to someone else for repairs, at least in some jurisdictions, they may have pretty free rein in terms of what they’re allowed to access on your computer.

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Companies: circuit city

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Comments on “Supreme Court Won't Hear Case Over Computer Tech's Right To Search Your Computer”

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Keven Sutton says:


Honestly, if they had access to log in to the computer and access to the files then there really can’t be much assumption of privacy there.

It’d be like a technician coming to your house and finding it lying on the ground. Unless they had to bust through his passwords or do something tricky there’s really no argument here.

JMG says:

Re: Understandable

Depends on where the file was located at. If it’s on the desktop, sure. But, if it’s located within a folder, I’m not so sure.

It’s more like a meter reader coming in your house while your away to read your meter (yes, there are some of us who still have their electric/gas meters inside their home). While doing his job he goes through your cabinets, closets, garage, etc. and finding it somewhere.

Giving someone the keys to your house to provide a service doesn’t give them free reign while you’re not there. The techs had access to login to install a DVD player, like the meter reader has access to come in and read the meter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Understandable

On the other hand, if the meter reader was new to your house, he might accidentally go into your bathroom with your unmentionables, and maybe your intimate toys, in plain sight. So, he accidentally opens a folder (which I do all the time on my computer), and sees something that looks suspicious and like a potential criminal act. Does he ignore it or does he report it?

Jesse says:

Re: Re: Understandable

I tend to agree with this statement. You don’t forfeit privacy so you can get a DVD player installed. It’s tricky for many people to agree with, because it’s child porn. But if it were something legal, like say a nude picture of yourself or your wife or something, and they were viewing said picture (copying it?) then would you still agree? I wonder how many people are defending the techs because what they found was child porn. Finding child porn makes them heroes, but finding nude pictures of the client makes them perverts, right? What do you think they were looking for in the first place?

Guy says:

Re: Re: Re: Understandable

Completely disagree. Expecting honesty from kids who may have had a high school class on computer hardware at some point in time, that make as little as $10 hourly is a bit unrealistic. The more privacy that gets violated, more people will learn to live in the 21st century. You just don’t have files on your computer that are ‘private’ when you hand it over. Never.
You don’t hang naked pictures of your wife behind your shower curtain in the guest bathroom ‘trusting’ the honesty of people who shut bathroom door when nature calls.
There is a reason there are camera’s in department stores, there are dishonest people. Businesses know it, people should too. Not only was it his responsibility (ignorance is not an excuse) to cleanse his hard drive, I hope he gets the book thrown at him for being a damn perv.
Lets not worry about the dishonest kids, the damn with his privacy.

jtsmith says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Understandable

This guy is a perv, but he is not being prosecuted justly. Using your logic means that I should be able to look at anyones files on their computer when I am working on their computer. Wrong! If, I have to work at someones desk because I am an say an intern or I am training. Does this give me the right to look through their profile? Stop spewing your big brother socialistic ideas.

mjb5406 (profile) says:

Re: Understandable

There is a huge argument. When a person signs a repair document, they don’t give the company permission to do whatever they want. If you took your car in for repair of the brakes and they returned it to you with a huge bill saying “While we had your car we inspected it completely, and replaced the tires, the battery, the tie rods, the radiator, air filter, and gave it an oil change and tuneup. But the car wash was free.” Would YOU be happy?

Keven Sutton says:

Re: Re: Understandable

I don’t think you are making a accurate comparison.

If I went to an audio mechanic and asked for new speakers and they installed new speakers, but never checked to see if they had been correctly installed that would be comparable to someone installing a DVD player in your computer and not checking to see if it worked.

if I went to a mechanic and asked for new speakers, and while installing them he installed a spoiler, some spinning rims, deck lights, and shaded windows that would be comparable to having someone install a dvd player and then them taking to privilege of installing Adobe CS3 on your computer.

what these guys most likely did was turn the computer on (not password protected) start installing the DVD playing software that comes on most video DVD’s, it begins scanning the harddrive for files that it can play and they appear in the software’s Files tab or section. Comparable to a mechanic installing a speaker set and while he’s checking wires finds ten kilos of cocaine in the door of the car.

DS says:

Re: Re: Re: Understandable

I’ll totally agree it’s not a fair comparison. A fair comparison would be if you hired a plumber, and they started going through your cabinets and dresser drawers. Of course, if on boot-up they had CP as their wallpaper, that’s a different case all-together. But if they scanned the hard drive for media, that’s an invasion of privacy.

Or at least that’s the way I see it.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re: Understandable

If I went to an audio mechanic and asked for new speakers and they installed new speakers, but never checked to see if they had been correctly installed that would be comparable to someone installing a DVD player in your computer and not checking to see if it worked.

Here’s a novel idea; They could have tested the DVD player by playing a DVD. Also, if they’re going to test the included software’s ability to play various video formats, it would make much more sense that they have a disc of test videos that they could use to verify that it’s working properly, rather than go looking for files on the customer’s system. What happens if the customer had no video files?

what these guys most likely did was turn the computer on (not password protected) start installing the DVD playing software that comes on most video DVD’s, it begins scanning the harddrive for files that it can play and they appear in the software’s Files tab or section.

If that’s what happened, it just goes to show how pathetic software has gotten in the quest to cater to clueless users who don’t have the slightest idea how to actually use their own systems.

jsmith says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Understandable

FYI there is no OEM DVD player software that manages files like you described. Most OEMs use WinDVD and it does not do display thumbnailed images of files. They were probably trying to snoop and try to find music to rip off. I’ve met lots of tech’s that have music collections that they have admitted stealing from clients.

hegemon13 says:

Perfectly Reasonable

It’s not hard to accidentally come across files on a computer. Heck, if the customer was accessing the illegal content regularly, it would show up in his Recent Documents folder. By giving his system and login info (which every IT shop requires) to the techs, he gave up his right to privacy. If there was something he did not want them to see, he should have removed it before taking the computer in.

We had a similar issue when I worked at an IT shop. We were, however, doing a data backup and system reload for the customer, so there was no question of whether we had a right to access the data. It put us in a pretty tough spot, as any attention to the matter would have been disastrous. Sure, we did the right thing by turning it over to the police, but customers don’t want to work with an IT shop that they feel will snoop through their personal stuff. People get paranoid that they’ll get busted for MP3s or Divx files, or whatever. Thankfully, no reporters ever came knocking about it.

Kazi says:

If I give someone the keys to my apartment to do work on the television set they shouldn’t be looking beneath the TV for the TV guide to see what TV shows I have access to to test out the TV. You can just turn the TV on and when properly connected it will work – no need for the TV guide.

The people were installing and testing a DVD player and its software. How does testing a testing a “movie playing client” / “movie palying hardware” with videos relate to having the DVD player work? Shouldn’t it have been tested with a DVD instead? Furthermore, shouldn’t the tech have a “standard” movie to test out the installed software instead of expecting the customer to have movies on his computer? You’re clearly snooping around the machine to find a movie file no matter how easy the access is.

Rob (profile) says:

This is kind of a tough case, but I can see very reasonably how the tech would come upon the offending files accidently — i.e. trying to test play a DVD and seeing the [clearly bad movie].wmv in the ‘Recently Played’ bar or whatever. It would be easy enough to accidently mouse over Recent Documents while navigating to the Programs area of the start menu. Regardless of any of this, it is the guy’s fault for first having the material on his machine when he brought it in for service. If the files had been deleted and Circuit City recovered them to bust him, or they were encrypted and the tech had to break a password to get to them, he might have a case. Even then though, I would consider the tech even seeing the file names, not even the actual files as more than probable cause to turn the machine over to authorities. I mean, we are talking about a seriously heinous crime here with a huge cost in human suffering — if you brought your car in for service and it had a suspicious looking red stain in the trunk, the police would most likely be notified even though there is no concrete evidence, only a good hint that a very serious crime has been committed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh, yeah. I definitely see this. He does a quick search for .wmv files for testing and finds UH, OH! Looks like a crime here!

As for your car example, the guy digs in your glove box and finds a bloody knife. Why was he in your glove box? Thinking you might have maintenance records or wanting to double check something in your manual. Unless the guy (or gal) is digging through your undie drawer, you have to give the technician the benefit of the doubt that encountering the offending files was accidental.

Eric (profile) says:

While I was working for geek squad it was put to us like this, we do not go searching through files. However, if by some chance we come across something like that, we look no further, and call the police, flat out, no calling the customer nothing like that. So I do not know what circuit city’s policy was, but geek squad was we do not look. Period.

AJ says:

Testing file

I’m willing to bet the “snooping” consisted of installing the software for the DVD player, and either searching, or selecting from history, a video file to test said software. I doubt the computer tech really cared what was on the computer and found said file in the performance of the requested service completely by accident.

Just my guess anyway…

JohnRaven,CHT,CSH (profile) says:

Techs are lying their @sses off...

Knowing more than a small bit about computers, I can tell you… there’s VERY, VERY little reason to bring up a movie on someone’s hard drive when installing a DVD drive.

Rip open the computer, install the drive, boot up the computer, load up the DVD Player softare (if any comes with the DVD drive) and put a DVD in the drive and play it. Tell me how any of those steps involve looking at personal files.

I have several friends who are computer techs and I know MANY techs who would scavenge through a users files and make copies of anything they thought was noteworthy…. music, pictures, etc.

If you give your computer to ANYONE who is computer savvy enough to be fixing it, just assume that every single one of your files will be looked at… private pictures, emails, movies… ANYTHING.

Either encrypt it with PGP or just confess to everything you’ve done before you drop off your computer.

mjb5406 (profile) says:

Re: Techs are lying their @sses off...

I thought the same thing… if you install a piece of hardware, you test the hardware, in this case by loading a DVD and seeing if it plays properly. You don’t need access to any WMV, AVI, MPG, MP4 or MOV files. The “accidentally found” argument is disingenuous, and, as others have pointed out, giving a person access to something to perform one particular task does not give them carte blanche access to do anything they want. It’s irrelevant whether the customer was watching their every move, or whether they simply gave the computer and password to the tech. It’s pretty obvious that the tech was snooping outside of the scope of their job and, if nothing else, the customer may have grounds for a civil suit against the tech. Unfortunately, the chain is now defunct, so not much can be done against them or their policies (who’s to say that they didn’t have a policy stating “when repairing a computer, it is your duty to the company to go through it for objectionable content”; maybe the company was run by religious zealots). Playing devil’s advocate, though, turning a computer containing porn over to a tech is just plain dumb; at the very least, delete the “bad stuff”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Techs are lying their @sses off...

I can see why the techs accessed files. If they installed a DVD software player. Then checking if it was the default player for all file types and those file types were working would justify them seeking out those file types.

Although, circuit city should have an acceptable use policy for users that explains what they will do in the case where they find illegal software or file types or illegal content.

What if this person had a online gambling program (illegal in the US). Should they call the FBI?

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re: Techs are lying their @sses off...

“What if this person had a online gambling program (illegal in the US). Should they call the FBI?”

No, probably not. There is a difference here, however. In the case of that software, it can be used for illegal action, but the software itself is not illegal. In the case of MP3s, Divx files, etc, the files are only illegal in some instances, but may be perfectly legal if the owner owns the originals, etc. Even if they are illegal, it is a civil issue for the courts, not the tech, to decide.

With child pornography, it is a very different issue. The mere possession of it is a felony. In addition, I know that, at least in the states of Kansas and Missouri, that you can be charged with possession if you know about it and don’t turn it in. That is, once we knew it was there, if we kept the computer on our premises, our techs, owners, etc, could be charged with possession. So, there is no middle ground. With this issue, the law pretty much forces your hand, and you MUST turn the computer over to the authorities.

Keven Sutton says:

Re: Techs are lying their @sses off...

Ideally, there would be no reason to have to bring up a DVD to test the job that a technician just performed. However there is also no reason “Ideally” to test all of those Microsoft patches before they are deployed to your company. Testing and flow control are very important steps in any installation.

As far as techs who scavenge through users files, if the software uses some sort of active detection of media files (as most of them do now) then they would not have to be “…(scavenging) though a users files and (making) copies of anything noteworthy…”

that being said, yes there are Techs who do not respect the privacy of their customers. Just as there are accountants who don’t respect their clients money and mechanics who don’t respect their clients cars (etc.)

Jason says:

Re: Techs are lying their @sses off...

“Rip open the computer, install the drive, boot up the computer, load up the DVD Player softare (if any comes with the DVD drive) and put a DVD in the drive and play it. Tell me how any of those steps involve looking at personal files.”

I’m sure that’s exactly what the guy did, except when he turned to grab a DVD it wasn’t there and he was too lazy to grab another and it’s the same difference anyway, so he just played a video file from the guys Movies folder to test the player software. It’s not that unlikely, and there’s certainly nothing inappropriate about it.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

my completely un-researched guess is the software that was installed with the DVD player searched the hard drive to create a library of movies to make it easy for the user to find all of the videos just about every video/audio program I have installed does this and in most cases it is the default

They do this without even asking you?

John says:


Its just a driver that is needed. XP and Vista automatically load up a suitable driver for 95% of optical drives.

And as far as the password goes, I dropped my computer off at a shop and didn’t tell them the password.

They were supposed to flash the bios (I didn’t have a floppy drive) and I came back to my desktop up on a giant monitor via KVM.

They had no need to:
Boot to an OS.
Disable my administrator password.
Play around on my computer.

It’s like someone who is given access to your car to change the tires and they dig though your glove box.

On the bright side some pedo got thrown in jail.

Keven Sutton says:


Considering this guy was having someone at a store install a DVD drive in his “porno” computer, my guess is he isn’t very computer literate. This means that if the company wants him to leave the first time without coming back complaining that his DVD player doesn’t work, they have to set EVERYTHING up for him (and might even have to turn on auto-play from DVD drives).

as far as them playing around on your computer, if you don’t trust the people you are dropping it off with then you have given them PHYSICAL access to the device, and as most security people will tell you, physical access trumps almost all security measures. the only thing that they wouldn’t be able to break with physical access (that I can think of) is full disk encryption (via TrueCrypt). that’s about it though.

j says:


Just because it was on his computer doesn’t mean he’s a pedo. He could have downloaded a file labeled as something else, and hadn’t viewed it yet. Someone else could have been using his computer and done the same thing.. knowingly or not. It’s unlikely but not impossible. Just as the techs are more likely to have a batch script that copies every jpg/mpg/avi off every customer’s pc, but it’s possible they did accidentally come across it.
They probably found more stuff on his computer later, but if it was the only file, it could have been accidentally downloaded.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Honestly, I have to agree mostly with most people here. If you have a folder on your desktop that is called: “My child porn” it is fair game. (If anything because you are a moron and perhaps putting you in jail will remove you from the gene pool) If the file is somewhat hidden and the tech has to browse through the computer before finding anything, it should clearly be inadmissible. However, if the file is in your Recently Played of something like that and the name is ambiguous at all (and remember that stuff such as lolicon whatever it’s called is legal so a lot can be ambiguous) then the tech should not have opened it. It might be easier to select something from “recently played” in order to test the DVD drive software, but it still is an invasion of privacy.

Bob Bunderfeld (profile) says:

The Law is the Law

The Supreme Court denied to hear this case because there is nothing here Constitutionally that needs to be decided.

If you give your Computer to a third-party freely, no matter for what, you have just removed any “privacy” issues you thought you had. This would be different if an Authorized Authority of the State came in and snooped around on the Computer and found this, simply because they would still need a Warrant to make this search; even if the third-party gave their permission to search the Computer, the Court would still require the Authorities to get a Warrant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Law is the Law

That is not necessarily true. If the guy has a named user account then the files would most likely be under that users folder structure. If the tech had used admin account to login then, although he has ability, he being a admin would know that he did not have rights to access users folders. The user did not grant him rights to search other users folders, and the user has the expectance of privacy. In this case the tech should be arrested for trespassing.

However, if the user logs in with the admin user account (moron) then the tech was using the same account and the user granted the tech rights to the admin folders. Although the tech did not need to access those file to do his job he was granted access by the user to those accounts, and the user has no privacy expectance.

In either case shoot the user in a public square for all to see what happens to stupid computer users or child pornographers.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Law is the Law

That is not necessarily true.

Yes. It is. As I’ve already wrote, the constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures from the government, not from individuals.

That does not mean that an individual can legally search your stuff. Of course such a search could be illegal. However, because the search does not involve the government, the exclusionary rule never comes into play.

Here’s a good example from the court where I work. Three burglars broke into a guy’s house and stole his safe. They finally got it open and discovered it was not filled with money. But with child porn the safe owner produced himself using children he knew from friends and family.

These three hardcore criminals were so incredibly shocked by what they found they turned the safe, the tapes, and the pictures over to the police. And because the police did not perform the search which led to the discovery of the child porn, which was evidence that the safe owner committed sexual assaults against children, the evidence was not excluded.

Thus, it does not matter how reasonable the Best Buy employees were. The constitution does not protect us from them. Clearly breaking into a person’s house and stealing a safe is unreasonable. But it does not invoke the exclusionary rule, because the government was not involved.

Pwdrskir (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: i totally agree with the verdict.

The flipside, everyone is innocent until Proven guilty. How do know that some wise-guy didn’t dump the body in the trunk or a vengeful computer tech didn’t plant the child porn? Targets of blackmail or patsies are wide open to be abused with this ruling.

This is setting a very dangerous precedent. A computer savvy person, who allegedly finds incriminating or illegal data by doing a suspect search on someone’s computer, might have an ulterior motive or could be working for the government. Setting someone up with planted data seems like it would be child’s play for a computer savvy person.

I’ve been the target of a blackmail scheme to get me to resign my position. Secret company data was placed on my company computer without my knowledge and I was told to resign or face jail time. Lucky for me, the person had tried a similar tactic in the past, but was ratted out this time by a cohort. He was fired, but things at work are not same.

Bottom line: Just don’t piss anyone off that can frame or blackmail you, because chances are they will.

Bob Bunderfeld (profile) says:

Being a Snoop isn't a Crime

IF you are one of these people many are claiming to be, that you have to let the Meter Reader in, or say your Apartment needed the Carpets cleaned and you gave Management the OK to let those people in, you are sorely mistaken to think that if these people were to snoop and find something incriminating against you, that it wouldn’t be allowed into a criminal trial.

The ONLY way this would happen, is if the Offending Party were acting in accordance with the Authorities, or were the Authorities themselves pretending to be someone else.

Snooping around your private property isn’t against the law, it is probably grounds for a Civil Action, but certainly not Criminal.

The Courts have ruled time and again, that if you freely allow someone into your Home, then you give up your “Right to Privacy” if you aren’t there to make sure they don’t ggo “snooping around”.

Of course, while you might be found guilty of whatever crime they found evidence concerning, you could still SUE their employer because their Employee acted outside of the “normal” scope of their job and duties. Yet again, this is a CIVIL matter and not a CRIMINAL matter; unless of course, these people were to have damaged any of your property to get to the evidence.

Skean says:

Being a Computer Tech, I can say that 90% of the time we will look through the files on the computer just for the hell of it. Many times, we will find some form of illegal activity, but we will not hand you over unless you cross the line into immoral standards. Not to say that looking through the personal files is right or wrong, it is just the nature of it all…

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

Being a Computer Tech, I can say that 90% of the time we will look through the files on the computer just for the hell of it.

Which is why I will NEVER leave my computer with a third party. I will figure out how to fix the problems myself, or find someone I know who can fix them. I would only consider taking my system in to a shop if they’d fix it while I wait and allow me to watch them. If not, they’ll never get my business.

Bri (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, if you run into any illegal activity on a user’s system I’m pretty sure you are required by law to disclose it. I’m assuming here that not doing so would make you an accomplice.

I’ve done plenty of tech work and I was one of the few moral people who wouldn’t go snooping, but a lot of scumbags do.

This is really an issue of what kind of permission is implied in any repair whether it be computer, home, etc. As mentioned, when you invite an electrician into your home there is an implied expectation of privacy. He shouldn’t be going through your underwear drawer, which btw would be an illegal activity. So why is it any different for a computer hard drive?

The question comes down to, is there any valid excuse for the tech to be accessing those files? In a DVD hardware repair, there isn’t and I don’t understand how any tech could take the stand and say so. Even for entire file backups, there is ZERO reason that files should be opened. Sure, if the file says, “here’s all my illegal porn,” then you report it to the authorities. You don’t go opening individual files under ANY circumstance.

Honestly, the guy is pure scum for having these types of files on his computer, but I would have fired the tech for doing what amounts to an illegal activity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Being a Computer Tech, I can say that 90% of the time we will look through the files on the computer just for the hell of it…Not to say that looking through the personal files is right or wrong…

Easy way of telling if this is right or wrong: tell your customers of this before they hand you their computer.

For bonus points, do this in front of your boss…

X-FC1 says:

top secret documents on crashed drive

Back in the day, when clamshell style Zenith laptops were all the rage, and I was in the Navy, we had an LT who brought his laptop to the repair shop that had the Navy repair contract to have his crashed hard drive on his personally owned computer repaired. They found documents formatted as Top Secret (those words on the top and bottom of each page). Of course, they told the Navy, and that LT made little rocks out of big rocks for many years. No one questioned the technicians right (or lack thereof) to see the contents of the drive or to divulge that content to the Navy. Then again, this was the mid 1990’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

As a tech. One of the primary reasons to use a file from the clients computer to test a video player is that there are so many different formats.
What is the main format type the client uses? (.3g2,.3gp,.asf, .asx, .avi, .flv, .mkv, .mov, .mp4, .mpg, .qt, .rm, .swf, .vob, .wmv)
Are the proper codecs loaded?
Easiest way to answer this? Play recent files.
These issues may not come into play with a straight hardware install, but definitely do if software is added to the mix.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

As a tech. One of the primary reasons to use a file from the clients computer to test a video player is that there are so many different formats.
What is the main format type the client uses? (.3g2,.3gp,.asf, .asx, .avi, .flv, .mkv, .mov, .mp4, .mpg, .qt, .rm, .swf, .vob, .wmv)
Are the proper codecs loaded?
Easiest way to answer this? Play recent files.

I’m not a tech, but I have to question your abilities based on what you’ve written.

Using video files off an unknown person’s system is in no way a reliable method of testing video players.

Are the ASF/WMV files WMV7, 8, 9? Are the MPG files mpeg1, mpeg2, mpeg4? What codecs do the AVI files use, Divx? Xvid? VP2? Cinepak? Indeo 2/3? What resolution are the MKV files? How do you know that the files aren’t broken? Or that they’re not mislabeled (MPG/AVI)?

Just because you can play RECENT1.WMV doesn’t mean that every WMV file will play. Hell, you can’t even be sure (without checking) that it’s actually a WMV file and not a misnamed MPG file, as is common with porn files on the file sharing networks. I downloaded some WMV files that absolutely would not play in any of the normal Windows players (WMP, MPC, VLC, PowerDVD, GOM Player, etc). The only program I could find that would play them was MPlayer. What if you were to encounter such files on a customer’s system? You’d spend all your time trying to figure out why they won’t play.

A proper tech would have a disc full of test videos in various formats that are known to be good so that you can be sure of what you’re playing.

Furthermore, if the user has those files on their system, chances are that they already have the codec for them installed. Outside of a clearly labeled “non-working” directory where I keep a few small videos that I can’t yet figure out how to play, you won’t find a single video file on my system that can’t be played using at least one of the installed video players.

anymouse (profile) says:

Overzealous Software... OMG

I’m with Shawn above, who hasn’t ‘upgraded’ a movie/video player and had it search your entire computer attempting to locate every single sound and video file along with attempting to make itself the default player for all the types of files it finds.

Are we sure the tech didn’t just install the software that came with the actual DVD drive, and watched as it scanned the hard drive returning video files like: kiddy pron1, junior does daddy, or similar sick crap. At the time this case was happening, the delivered OS tools weren’t that great on their own and almost every DVD drive came with it’s own ‘software’ package consisting of drivers, management software, and viewing software (which always tried to make itself the default for all file types they could support, along with cataloging them for easier viewing in the future).

Rekrul says:

Re: Overzealous Software... OMG

I’m with Shawn above, who hasn’t ‘upgraded’ a movie/video player and had it search your entire computer attempting to locate every single sound and video file along with attempting to make itself the default player for all the types of files it finds.

I haven’t. The only commercial player I’ve ever installed was PowerDVD4. I didn’t like the newer versions. I’ve also never installed any of the bloated later versions of Windows Media Player. I still have 6.4 installed. All of my players have been freeware (Media Player Classic, GOM Player, MPlayer, etc).

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Overzealous Software... OMG

“All of my players have been freeware (Media Player Classic, GOM Player, MPlayer, etc)…”

Good for you, and good choices. But you know damn well that is not what Circuit City was installing. They were installing whatever came with the drive. Every one of those I have tried does automatically set itself up as the default player for the filetypes it supports, and they do often try to scan into a “helpful” media library.

Syn4fun says:

Snooping should be a Crime

When I had my cable installed the tech didn’t have permission to check out any other rooms in my house just because… so why does any tech asume they can just open any file and take a peek just because he has this computer and the owner in not around. and last I checked putting in a DVD unit does not requir going into any files… but when the owner is not around then people asume they can do what ever they please with your stuff.. like taking your dads car out with your friends when you were in high school and you burned rubber at ever corner cause your dad would never know… though most of us are not like this guy with his porn.. we all have things on our computer that are of no concern to anyone but us so I say keep tech’s from screwing our right to privicy up…

Jason says:

Re: Snooping should be a Crime

Again, DVD drives often include bundled player software > needs to be tested > “digging through files” is automatic for most players now > there it was.

In THIS case, it’s really more like the cable guy went to connect the cable to your old-school VCR and when he turned it on to test the connection, the machine sucked in the tape that was poking out and began to auto-play.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Snooping should be a Crime

Regardless of if it should be, it isn’t.

No one is saying that techs *should* snoop, or that they are *allowed* to snoop, we’re saying they probably will, and you should *expect* it.

That means, if there is anything on your computer you wouldn’t want them to find, encrypt it or remove it. Truecrypt is so easy a PC user can do it. (I keed, I keed!)

For all we know, this perv’s idea of “hiding” it was renaming it to funnyYouTubeVideo.avi, so the techs, making sure the codecs were all installed, thought to play a seemingly harmless video, only to find kiddie porn.

Anonymous Coward says:

I just wanted to add that no responsible techs search through comptuers.
This court ruling, though good that it locked up a pedophile freak, overall is bs. Is it okay if a tech, clicks on a quicken file and reads the contents to make sure a new hard drive works correctly? Is it okay for a technician to install a hard drive indexing utility and search your PC to test it? Should a tech be able to rummage through my outlook to test a .pst bakup restore? No f’ing way. I work on computers myself, but If I did take my computer to get it repaired I would only do so under the assumption that the contents of the harddisk are private. Unless this file was sitting on the desktop, labeled as child porn, it should not be admissible.

Rob (profile) says:

@Imafish — “And because the police did not perform the search which led to the discovery of the child porn, which was evidence that the safe owner committed sexual assaults against children, the evidence was not excluded.”

Wow, I had not heard about that one. I would have to disagree very strongly with the law in that particular case, as it opens the door wide open to abuse. For instance, if the police did not want to get a warrant, a dirty cop could simply pay off a crook to break into your house, steal evidence, and then conveniently see to it the criminal is not caught after anonymously turning over the evidence. I think the only metric for the exclusion doctrine should be whether or not criminal acts were committed in obtaining the evidence. If someone breaks into a home and steals a locked safe, which also needs to be cracked, the evidence should not be admissible in court, period. I am certainly not arguing that you are wrong about that being the law, but I do feel strongly that that is an unjust law that ought to be changed. At least that is my $0.02.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Please re-read what Ima said. If the police hired someone to break into a person’s house (or if the police or government was involved in any way), then the evidence, no matter how damning or heinous, would be excluded.

Only if they were caught paying someone to break in and steal evidence. If not, they have successfully committed an illegal search and the evidence gets admitted.

Disgusted says:

R U Kidding Me

I am a tech and I know that whomever found the files did not do it by accident. I worked for a School District where a Tech was fired for not reporting the what he found in the proper manner because there is a 0 – Zero tollerance for Child Pornography. When i do side jobs, I tell people that i will be looking through the PC and make sure that they do not have anything on there that would embarass them.

Personally or legally I do not care how the files were found on his PC only that they are found, that this guy goes to prison for a LONG LONG time and that a fellow by the name of Bubba has a long talk with him. No excuses, no loopholes – Prison or castration.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: R U Kidding Me

cool.. olets just do this for everything. lets all live in an atmosphere of fear driven by an informer-powered prosecution system. who cares about civil liberties… we’re talking about tHE CHILDREN!!! who cares when these children grow up they’ll enter our quality society where freedom is respe….errr wait.

The government demanding that private organizations inform on other private organizations to get around illegal searches is bogus. it’s just that anyone with power wants it that way.

Stevo says:

when i was doing tech a can say i never started going through files when installing a dvd drive, as i never wanted to create more work then i needed to do. but we are talking about personal computers and what a normal person might think is hidden, might actually be in the open for somebody who knows about computers. People tend not to hide things when nobody else uses the pc. and its also rare that people would only want a dvd drive installed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Does anyone know if the kiddie porn was grossly obvious that it was something he pursued?

My point is, same some unlucky joe is surfing, clicks on a link that takes him to a kiddie porn site, and he navigates away, unaware he has a small video clip in his internet cache.

It’s a crime to even have it on your computer, but was HE aware it was on there when he gave Circuit City his computer?

Kazi says:

I should put some copy tracking software on my machine and load up iTunes with a ton of legally bought songs.

Next, give the machine to be maintained by multiple stores and keep track of which ones make a copy of the songs. Also, make sure I target high level officials and the kids of copyright/patent lawyers and RIAA.

Following all this take legal action against each and every occurance of this.

Maybe I could also be more creative and do it with more sensitive information.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Stupidity of people amazes me!

Aside from the fact that child porn is abherrent and disgusting, a Moron in a hurry should assume if you give you computer to someone, “EVERYTHING” on your hard drive is now available for review. I guess that just illustrates that anyone with a personality flaw so vast as to want to look at child porn is SOOOOO stupid he should be lock up long enough to insure he doesn’t pollute the gene pool!!!

Just my humble opinion, I could be wrong…

Ame says:

A couple of points I have not seen here discussed...

First and most important – if a tech had admin access to everything he could have copied that file himself to the customer’s computer! Or his friend who happened to be in the room at the time the tech left for a bathroom break. I could see a very dangerous possibilities for abuse right here!

Second: what kind of kid porn was that? May I remind you that in some states (OK e.g.) the “Tin Drum” movie is still a kid porn BY LAW! You can buy a cassette tape or a DVD with that movie almost anywhere else. Same goes for several other “controversial” movies. (I can list a few here that will be deemed a porn by some courts). Extremely shaky ground…

Buster (profile) says:


I agree with the guy. Child porn is illegal (that should not change at all, not even a little bit) but I do think that the fact that the techs were only supposed to “tamper” with things related to the installation of the DVD player made it wrong for them to snoop through the guy’s files. BUT if he had the files on his desktop or as his background that’s a different story and then yes he should be in jail.
But if I know guys and porn, he had it probably inside 5 folders labeled Tax forms, or System files, or something else like that.

Again I don’t agree that he should have child porn, BUT I do think the techs were wrong to snoop AND then go to the cops about it.

Wow You People Are Stupid says:

Let's get something straight

The guy had child porn on his computer.

It doesn’t matter what “protocol” or steps are required to install a DVD player.

If you give me permission to install a deck on your house, and I walked inside for a drink of water and find a dead body in your living room. It doesn’t make it any less illegal just because I found it without permission to go “snooping around”.

I’m tired of these stupid laws that are like “well, you were invading my privacy and rights by looking in there, so it’s not credible evidence”

Tough sh*t.

I’ll gladly go to court for invading your privacy. You, on the other hand, still get to go to court for a dead body in your living room. Deal with it.

Pwdrskir (profile) says:

Re: Let's get something straight

Just to be clear, child porn providers and such should be hunted down and brought to justice, but dead bodies and binary data are two different things.

Binary data can easily be manipulated or planted unlike dead bodies. How do you know the tech wasn’t the child porn supplier? He could have been installing the encrypted data on the computer so it could be used as a drone by other child porn sickos, but got caught by a coworker and blamed the naive customer. Yea, you’re right, that could NEVER happen.

Assuming all computer techs are upstanding citizens, let alone the public at large, is something this ruling has determined as accurate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Let's get something straight

I think you are reading too much into this case, or perhaps not enough. The child porn was evidence of a crime, and not the crime itself. Someone still had to investigate to verify that the evidence was not planted or that the computer did not come from a third party with the porn already on it. However, the fact that the guy was appealing based on illegal search and seizure is pretty good evidence that the guy did download the porn and was trying to figure out how to get the evidence of his crime thrown out.

Rekrul says:

A few years back, we wrote about the case where a guy was arrested for possessing child pornography after techs at Circuit City found child porn on his computer, while they were installing a DVD player.

You know, it makes me sad that in this day and age, the average computer user is too cluelss to follow simple directions and install a DVD drive into their own computer. Open the case, slide the drive into an empty slot, put in four screws, plug in two cables which are hard to mistake for anything else and then close the case. How hard is that?

When I bought my first CD-RW drive, I’d never opened the case of a modern computer system in my life. I simply followed the included directions. I had a small problem with Windows 98 not assigning the drive a letter, but a quick call to the tech support number resolved that in less than 5 minutes.

r. decline (profile) says:

the real lesson here

keep your child porn, top secret documents, stolen credit card numbers, buried prostitutes location map, home burglary movies, meth recipes, bomb blueprints, and those personal pictures of you in a speedo after a night of drinking on an external drive.

seriously though, if you don’t want someone to see it, don’t take it to them. and anyone dumb enough to their child porn (or any other illegal activity) machine in for servicing deserves anything that follows.

B@man (profile) says:

This story isn’t so horrible – a freak went down; people, that’s a good thing. The search is inevitable and should even be expected. Just as your head turns to see the gory accident on the side of the road (and your foot instinctively hits the brake at the same time), so does the technician who just wants to see what he can see on an idiots computer.

There’s little that can be deemed illegal on a personal computer except for child porn. Anything else is up to interpretation by a jury in a court of law. So how would a technician know to find illegal stuff including music. Much of it is purchased legally anyway.

This thread should be dead – its a no-brainer. Keep a clean house or fix your own machine.

jsmith says:

Re: And the moral of the story is:

Anyone who is taking their computer to Circuit City is not going to know the first thing about encryption. People who usually go to Circuit City feel that its more convenient. Either because they would rather got to a local store then rather put up with the manufacturer’s support. I personally go straight to the manufacturer instead of having a geek squad goon look at my computer. Then again the only time I ever need help with my computer is if their is a hardware failure covered by a warranty.
Replacing a DVD player does not involve digging around a persons folders. Just slap that new one in and off you go. A monkey can change a DVD player and get it work! People need to stop being so afraid of computers.

B. Pickel says:

Not just a Dvd Player

If you read the actual information, he was installing a “DVD burner”. I’m no IT guru but the way i would think to check burning a CD, is to burn data to it and then load the DVD and check.
And the quickest place to burn some test data for a dvd burner? Why its “My Videos” of course.
I dare say this bloke was not the brightest tool in the shed when it came to computers and most likely had his porn files labeled openly in his video directory.

Sean says:

I think we are missing the point

I think people are missing the point, that point being, we don’t know exactly what the agreement was between the customer and the techs, nor do we know what the standard operating procedures are for the techs.

They have have several processes they run through before and after working on a PC to “Protect” themselves from those magical gremlins that seam to attack computer illiterate customers once they leave the store.

The fact of the matter is, in the United States it is illegal to be in possession of any illicit material involving children. The techs had a moral obligation to report this sick man and now he is trying to find a way to “weasel” his way out of it.

jsmith says:


The guy shouldn’t of had the junk on his computer in the first place, but there is no way that the tech is justified for finding anything on his computer. The tech would have to dig around through his documents. This would mean the tech would have to go into his documents folder go into his picture folder or wherever he stores his pictures. Since the offender is having Circuit City do the work for him, I would say the offender is not very savvy and all his data would be in their default respective places. It is the same thing with browse history or cookies. You have to actually dive into the folders.
Once you replace a DVD drive all you have to do is turn your computer on and your computer will find the new drive and install the driver all on its own. Also, once your putting a DVD into the drive (the test), the drive starts up and the default movie player starts up. This is a total breach of privacy.

no one says:

police overstepping their authority taking what they want and there is nothing you can do

is it legal for the police to with out a warrant hack your cellphone to get your messages hack your pc just to look around? take your legally registered guns with out leaving a receipt of what they have taken along with my lock bag hard drives, and to tell the truth don’t even know what else was taken because they did not leave an inventory of what was do i get my guns back ?I’ve owned them so long i don’t know the # . looking at the activity log on my lap top they were able to log on to my pc when i was in jail

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