The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) arrested a woman named Sondra Prince in 2010 and confiscated her phone. While that’s not newsworthy in and of itself, what they did with her phone was: a DEA agent mined Prince’s phone for photos and used them to set up a fake Facebook profile under her name. The agency then used the profile as a tool in their investigation of a New York drug ring. Prince found out about the imposter profile, and has now filed a federal civil suit against both the United States and the DEA agent who took the pictures. She is asking for $250,000 in damages.
The case, which has currently been sent for mediation by the judge overseeing it, raises a lot of crucial questions about law enforcement’s role in social media. While the authorities turn to sites like Facebook more and more to gather evidence, it seems that in this instance the cops may have grossly overstepped their bounds.
“I may allow someone to come into my home and search,” law professor Anita L. Allen told Buzzfeed, which originally broke the story. “But that doesn’t mean they can take the photos from my coffee table and post them online… It reeks of misrepresentation, fraud and invasion of privacy.”
Since these were the actions of one agent operating independently, it will be interesting to see if he or the DEA itself will be reprimanded in any way. Either way, the case has drawn an interesting new line in the sand for privacy advocates and law enforcement officials alike.
For more information about how others can use fake Facebook profiles against you, be sure to check out this blog post.