Facebook Slams DEA Over Creating Fake Profiles

By McCarton Ackerman 10/21/14

The social media giant ordered the DEA to comply with their Terms of Use policy and stop creating fake accounts to catch drug dealers.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration is apparently not following Facebook’s Terms of Use policy. The social media site slammed the DEA for creating a fake online profile under the name of a convicted drug dealer in the hopes of obtaining incriminating information from her friends.

Facebook's chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, sent a formal letter last week to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart and ordered the agency to follow the same rules as civilian users when it comes to being truthful about identity. The social media site cited that users “will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission."

The letter came in response to Sondra Arquiett’s $250,000 lawsuit against the DEA for reportedly creating a profile under her name, using photos stored on her cell phone and even posting bogus status updates on the page about missing her boyfriend. Arquiett was originally arrested in July 2010 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine base. She was sentenced to time served and given a period of home confinement, but the fake profile was reportedly created in between her arrest and guilty plea.

The monetary damages Arquiett is requesting are due to “fear and emotional distress” she suffered as a result since DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen interacted with “dangerous individuals he was investigating.” The Justice Department has never denied that the DEA created a fake Facebook profile, but initially said it was justified because Arquiett "implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in...ongoing criminal investigations."

It’s a sentiment with which most privacy experts disagree. "If I'm cooperating with law enforcement, and law enforcement says, 'Can I search your phone?'…my expectation is that they will search the phone for evidence of a crime, not that they will take things off my phone and use it in another context,” said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization. “It’s [laughable].”

Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon confirmed in a statement two weeks ago that the incident is under review.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.