The US Drug Enforcement Administration could soon be back to the drawing board in regards to how the federal agency uses its social media skills to trap drug offenders. On Friday, Facebook issued a letter to Uncle Sam’s dope-sniffing cronies demanding the agency stop using fake profiles to investigate potential drug cases.
The letter, which was penned by Facebook’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, suggests that DEA administrator Michele Leonhart put an end to underhanded tactics that allow agents to set up phony Facebook profiles for the sole purpose of busting people for drugs. Sullivan claims these actions are a clear violation of Facebook’s user agreement, which insist that users be truthful about their identity, and does not provide immunity for drug agents.
“The DEA’s deceptive actions violate the terms and policies that govern the use of the Facebook service and undermine trust in the Facebook community,” wrote Sullivan. “We regard DEA’s conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook’s terms and policies.”
Facebook argues that the allegations made earlier this year by New York resident Sondra Arquiett, which claims that DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen set up a bogus Facebook profile using her information and photos to catch a group of drug dealers is, in no way, a practice they intend to support.
Court documents indicate that after Arquiett was arrested in July 2010, agent Sinnigen swiped Facebook data from her cell phone, and a month later used it to establish a cover profile to communicate with “dangerous individuals he was investigating.”
At first, the Justice Department issued a statement in support of this shady practice, arguing that although Arquiett did not give the DEA permission to use her personal information, she “implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in … ongoing criminal investigations.”
Yet, the federal agency is now backpedaling, saying that it is investigating the DEA’s phony Facebook scheme to determine if it was a step over the line. However, a spokesperson for the agency says setting up fake social media accounts is not standard procedure, and that this appears to be an isolated incident. “That review is ongoing, but to our knowledge, this is not a widespread practice among our federal law enforcement agencies,” said Brian Fallon, with the Department of Justice.