Woman Sues DEA For Creating Fake Facebook Account Under Her Name

By McCarton Ackerman 10/09/14

The DEA used real photos and status updates to trick Sondra Arquiett's friends into incriminating themselves.

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A potentially precedent-setting case is pending in court after a woman sued the DEA for creating a fake Facebook account under her name.

Sondra Arquiett was arrested in July 2010 and pleaded guilty the following February 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. However, she is now suing for $250,000 in damages after discovering that DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen created a fake Facebook account in the hopes of tricking her friends and acquaintances into spilling drug information that could be incriminating.

The fake page included real photos of Arquiett and even added status updates written under her name. The Justice Department initially justified the DEA’s actions by claiming that even though she didn’t consent to the account, she "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." However, Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon confirmed in a statement earlier this week that the incident is being reviewed and that the case is currently pending.

"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].”

Arquiett’s damages are based on invasion of privacy and the “fear and emotional distress” she suffered as a result since Sinnigen interacted with “dangerous individuals he was investigating.”

At a bare minimum, the DEA’s policies appear to violate Facebook’s terms of use policies. The social media site states that users “will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission."

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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.