Courtesy of AP News: Fake Facebook Page Of Real Woman Created By DEA pic.twitter.com/15oz22sPDj
— Andrew Lopata (@androozbrane) October 7, 2014
The Drug Enforcement Administration set up a fake Facebook account using suggestive photographs and other personal information it took from the cellphone of an upstate New York woman arrested in a 2010 cocaine case, to trick her friends and associates into revealing incriminating drug secrets. Now Sondra Arquiett, the woman whose likeness and information was used in the account, is suing the agent in question, Timothy Sinnigen, and the U.S. government in federal court for allegedly creating the Facebook page without her knowledge or permission and using it to communicate with “dangerous individuals”.
According to court records, Sinnigen has admitted using Arquiett’s likeness without her express permission. However, the government is arguing Arquiett implied consent by surrendering her personal items after she was arrested as part of a drug investigation. Leading privacy experts told BuzzFeed that they found the case disturbing. “It reeks of misrepresentation, fraud, and invasion of privacy,” said Anita L. Allen, a professor at University of Pennsylvania Law School.
The experts also agreed that the case raises novel legal and ethical questions. There is a long tradition of deceptive practices by police that are legal, they noted. For example, officers assume a false identity to go undercover. “What’s different here,” said Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, “is that the agent assumed the identity of a real person without her explicit consent.”
In a court filing, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian 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 proposes 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].”
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The government’s court filing also confirms that Sinnigen posted a photo of Arquiett “wearing either a two-piece bathing suit or a bra and underwear,” but denies the characterization of the photograph as suggestive. They also acknowledge that Sinnigen posted photos of Arquiett’s son and niece, who were then clearly young children.
Details of the case were first reported by the online news site BuzzFeed News.
At the time of Arquiett’s sentencing for the crime for which she was arrested, her attorney Kimberly Zimmer wrote “Ms. Arquiett never intended for any of the pictures on her phone to be displayed publicly, let alone on Facebook, which has more than 800 million active users,” she wrote in the motion addressing sentencing. “More disturbing than the fact that the DEA Agents posted a picture of her in her underwear and bra is the fact that the DEA agents posted a picture of her young son and young niece in connection with that Facebook account, which the DEA agents later claim was used for legitimate law enforcement purposes, that is, to have contact with individuals involved in narcotics distribution .”
Arquiett said in her suit that she suffered “fear and great emotional distress” and was endangered because the fake page gave the impression that she was cooperating with Sinnigen’s investigation as he interacted online with “dangerous individuals he was investigating.” She is seeking $ 250,000.