WOMAN’S FAKE FACEBOOK PROFILE USED TO SNARE DRUG DEALERS
Here’s a scenario for you:
A woman is arrested on crack cocaine charges and is sentenced to probation. During the DEA’s investigation, she allowed DEA agents to access her cell phone.
The DEA, without her permission, sets up a face Facebook profile under her name, posts photos of her, and uses it to try and get her friends to reveal incriminating information.
Sound too creepy to be real? Unfortunately it’s not – the DEA did exactly that with a woman named Sondra Prince in New York. Ms. Prince has now filed suit against the DEA and is seeking $250.000 in damages.
So what was the DEA’s justification for why they were able to create the fake profile? From the DEA’s court filing:
“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.”
Apparently the DEA used the information she had on her phone in setting up the fake profile, and even posted photos she had on her phone to it. This is pretty much the equivalent of allowing the police to search your apartment and afterwards finding out they leased an apartment in your name across town in order to catch crooks with whom you may associate.
So is creating a fake Facebook profile without someone’s consent a “legitimate law enforcement purpose?” Courts have previously ruled that the police and law enforcement can use a drug dealer’s cell phone to text his customers and set up arrests. The police can also pretend to be other people in conducting prostitution stings.
As far as Ms. Prince’s case goes, I would expect a confidential settlement and some sort of “official review” by the DEA of its policies, since the DEA won’t want a court ruling saying it broke the law by doing this. But let this serve as a reminder – if the police ask to go through your cell phone, tell them to “get a warrant.”