A district court judge in New Jersey has ruled that law enforcement officials can create fake Facebook and social media accounts to collect evidence — without a search warrant.
This potentially monumental case came about in 2013 after a man named Daniel Gatson was busted by the FBI for leading a jewelry theft ring. Gatson had accepted friend requests on Instagram from undercover police officers looking for evidence, and when Gatson posted pictures of stolen jewelry, he was caught red-handed.
Gatson then filed a motion to suppress evidence gathered from his social media accounts, though United States District Judge William Martini ruled that, because Gatson had voluntarily accepted the police’s friend request, the evidence gathered there could be used against him in court. The judge also said that the evidence from Gatson’s Instagram account was enough for law enforcement to get a search warrant for his home.
For its part, Facebook is extremely unhappy with law enforcement’s use of fake profiles on the site (and on the Facebook-owned Instagram). Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan wrote a strong letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency this fall that reprimanded the group for impersonating users to gathering information, saying that “Using Facebook to impersonate others abuses that trust and makes people feel less safe and secure when using our service.”