Facebook has a bone to pick with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and law enforcement in general. Remember hearing about that wonderful crackdown on fake profiles recently? To Facebook, that applies to everyone. It doesn’t exempt law enforcement and government agencies conducting investigations or sting operations, like the DEA.
Joe Sullivan, chief of security at Facebook, actually sent a letter to DEA administrator Michele Leonhart stating that they’re subject to the same rules as civilians while using Facebook, which means no fake profiles. The DEA is currently a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that an agent, Timothy Sinnigen, created an account using the name and photos of a New York woman, Sondra Arquiett. The DEA got the photos off her cell phone after an arrest in 2010.
Earlier this month, the Department of Justice said it would review this practice, in light of the lawsuit. According to the Washington Post, the New York Civil Liberties Union says this shows how law enforcement can really abuse the access they have to our mobile devices upon detainment or arrest.
The DEA agent didn’t use “generic” photos of Arquiett, either. The Washington Post says that Sinnigen used a picture of her in her underwear, another of her on the hood of a BMW, and posted pictures of her son and her niece. Both of them are minors. The purpose of the fake profile was to track down others in a drug ring.
Some might say that this serves Aquiett right for having those photos on her phone. Those would be the same people who believe that the celebrities whose nude photos were hacked because they were on Apple’s iCloud are at fault for that problem. Going by this logic, those of us that are stupid enough to use our credit or debit cards at Target and Home Depot are responsible for our information getting stolen.
The question, then, is how far can law enforcement ethically go when carrying out these types of investigations? Arquiett says Sinnigen used photos she never intended to make public. U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian believes that this behavior is okay, because apparently, when you consent to have your information used in ongoing investigations, you give implicit consent for agents to use any information they have, including private images on your mobile devices.
Then there’s the problem of placing real people in danger for the purpose of luring wanted criminals. Sure, the DEA has a mission to follow. However, do they have the right to put someone in danger if it furthers that mission? Part of Arquiett’s suit says that Sinnigen’s use of her photos and info on Facebook caused her emotional distress, and put her in danger because it made people think she was willfully cooperating with the DEA.
Facebook has asked the DEA to confirm that they’ve removed their fake profiles. Joe Sullivan said that Facebook considers the DEA’s activities to be a knowing and willful breach of their Terms of Service.
h/t Yahoo! News