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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Computer servicing privacy assumed, not mandated  |

Computer servicing privacy assumed, not mandated |
If there is stuff hidden on your computer -- that video of an embarrassing karaoke performance, that Abba greatest hits collection that is a guilty pleasure or pornographic images of children -- it’s never wise to leave it on a hard drive taken in for service.
University of Georgia student Kyle Thomas Glasser, 21, recently learned this when he sent his laptop to a Minneapolis, Minn., technical support company for repair last month. Technicians allegedly found child porn while servicing the machine, and Glasser ended up in jail.
The incident was not only disturbing for the content said to be involved, but raised a couple of privacy issues:
What right do computer repair companies have to rifle through someone's personal files? And what happens if they find something criminal and look the other way?
No law protects someone's data from being accessed, with or without permission, or requires that companies seek out authorities when finding something questionable, said Paul Stephens, policy director for San Diego-based non-profit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Consumers usually have to rely on customer-service agreements for any privacy safeguards.
"If you willingly turn over a computer to a company and it has something on it that implicates you in a crime, there's nothing that precludes that company from turning [your computer] over to a law enforcement agency," said Stephens, whose organization protects consumers from electronic privacy abuses.
And with no Georgia law requiring computer repair companies to report pornography or anything else illegal found during servicing, most of these businesses set their own policies and simply follow their own moral convictions.
Electronic retailer Best Buy, based in Minneapolis, offers technical support through its Geek Squad, and its policy is to contact law enforcement, which the technicians did after discovering what UGA police said were pornographic photos of children on Glasser's laptop.
"We got a call from Minneapolis law enforcement and they sent us the computer," UGA campus police chief Jimmy Williamson said.
Glasser has been charged with three counts of felony sexual exploitation of a child and bonded out of the Clarke County jail on Thursday, authorities said.

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