Facebook has told the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that it has to follow the same rules as everyone else and refrain from creating fake profiles on the site. The social network’s head of security, Joe Sullivan, reminded the DEA that Facebook does not allow users to create profiles based on false identities. A New York has filed a lawsuit against the agency after it allegedly used her personal information to set up a Facebook profile. Sullivan wrote that Facebook “has long made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies.” In a letter to the agency, he went on to say “We regard DEA’s conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook’s terms and policies.”
In a federal lawsuit, which is now in mediation, was brought by Sondra Arquiett, who claims her name – along with photographs retrieved from her cellphone – following an arrest on drug charges – was used to create a fake profile. That profile was then used by a DEA agent to make contact with individuals who were the subjects of ongoing investigations. It is also alleged that “revealing and/or suggestive photographs” of Arquiett were posted to the fake profile. Photographs of her son and her niece were also posted to the fake profile.
The Justice Department (DoJ), of which the Drug Enforcement Agency is a part, claims that Arquiett “implicitly consented” to the use of her information and pictures because she allowed DEA agents to access that information and, additionally, that she gave her consent for that information to be used in “ongoing criminal investigations.” Arquiett is claiming emotional distress and also accuses the federal agency of putting her in danger by giving the impression that she was cooperating with the DEA. Arquiett’s lawyer, Kim Zimmer, contests the Justice Department’s defense, saying that her client did not, in fact, consent to her information being used; that the cellphone was seized by the DEA and her name – along with the photographs on her cellphone – were used without her permission.
The case highlights, once again, the ongoing debate over privacy and how far the federal government can go in gathering and using personal information for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism. Social networking sites, online search engines and cell phone service providers have all become embroiled in the discussion over what authority government agencies have to demand that private companies hand over the personal information of their clients and users.
In this case, the justice Department has acknowledged that it is looking into whether or not the tactic went too far. Arquiett is also suing the individual DEA agent, Timothy Sinnigen, who created the false profile page. She is asking for $250,000 in damages.
Facebook took down the profile, following the initial report of the story in Buzzfeed, and the company has told the Drug Enforcement Agency to “cease all activities on Facebook that involve the impersonation of others.” There is no information of how many fake profiles may have been created in the past – or by which government agencies. Brian Fallon, is quoted as saying “…this is not a widespread practice among our federal law enforcement agencies.”
Graham J Noble