Buzzfeed has a very disturbing story about the DEA setting up a fake account for a woman on Facebook, including pictures of her and her kids, to set up contacts and investigate them. The Obama administration has filed a brief in court saying it’s totally okay for them to do that.
The Justice Department is claiming, in a little-noticed court filing, that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman online by creating a Facebook page in her name without her knowledge. Government lawyers also are defending the agent’s right to scour the woman’s seized cell phone and to post photographs — including racy pictures of her and even one of her young son and niece — to the phony social media account, which the agent was using to communicate with suspected criminals.
The woman, Sondra Arquiett, who then went by the name Sondra Prince, first learned her identity had been commandeered in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. There she was, for anyone with an account to see — posing on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, or, in another, wearing only skimpy attire. She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page.
The account was actually set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Timothy Sinnigen.
Not long before, law enforcement officers had arrested Arquiett, alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge, weighing evidence that the single mom was a bit player who accepted responsibility, ultimately sentenced Arquiett to probation. But while she was awaiting trial, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.
The DEA’s actions might never have come to light if Arquiett, now 28, hadn’t sued Sinnigen, accusing him in federal district court in Syracuse, New York, of violating her privacy and placing her in danger.
In a court filing, a U.S. attorney acknowledges that, unbeknownst to Arquiett, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook account, posed as her, posted photos, sent a friend request to a fugitive, accepted other friend requests, and used the account “for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.”
The government’s response lays out an argument justifying Sinnigen’s actions: “Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations [sic].”
That argument is problematic, according to privacy experts. “I may allow someone to come into my home and search,” said Allen, of the University of Pennsylvania, “but that doesn’t mean they can take the photos from my coffee table and post them online.”
“I cannot imagine she thought that this would be a use that she consented to,” the University of Washington’s Calo said.
“That’s a dangerous expansion of the idea of consent, particularly given the amount of information on people’s cell phones,” said Elizabeth Joh, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Law.
To say the least. This is pretty appalling.