The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been sued after it set up a fake Facebook account using personal information and photographs that it took from the smartphone of a woman who was arrested in a cocaine case. According to an article published by NBC news’ website, the hope of the DEA was to trick her friends and associates into revealing incriminating facts about themselves and any drug secrets that they may have had.
According to NBC, the Justice Department defended this practice in court filings, but now it says it is reviewing whether or not the Facebook scheme went too far.
This presents questions as to whether or not this is a practice that the DEA has used in the Twin Cities and around Minnesota.
The Facebook account being focused on was one that looked as normal as any other created on the social network. It included photos of her posing on the hood of a sports car and a photo of her with her niece and son. A status was even posted that said she was missing her boyfriend, identifying him by his nickname.
Despite how real the posts looked, it was not her. The account was created and operated by a DEA agent.
A spokesman with the Justice Department said in a statement that officials were reviewing the practice of creating fake social media accounts and the specific incident itself.
Details of the case were first reported by BuzzFeed.
Buzzfeed was illustrating the legal standards of privacy that are struggling to keep up with the always changing technologies. This incident also shows how the same social media platforms that are valuable in criminal cases can also raise privacy issues that are sometimes difficult for law enforcement and the courts to get around and through.
More or less, the question is how old rules can fit in with new technology. In this case, the woman who was spoofed is asking for $250,000 in damages.
As for her cocaine conviction, she was arrested in 2010 on charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. She was accused of being a part of a drug ring that was operated by her boyfriend. She was facing a possibility of life in prison.
The court records show that in 2011, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute. Her sentencing took place in 2012 and she just received time served and had to be under home confinement for a short period.
In the plea agreement, the woman acknowledged that for a two year period she was part of a drug conspiracy. Records also showed that she participated with co-conspirators that were in jail. The telephone calls were recorded.
The court records do not show whether or not the woman agreed to testify against any of the others involved in the drug ring.
In court documents, the Justice Department contends that the woman didn’t directly authorize the creation of the fake Facebook account. The woman “implicitly consented” by granting the DEA access to the information stored in her phone and by consenting to the use of the information to assist in an ongoing criminal investigation. The government has also argued that the Facebook page was private. However, a reporter was able to see it shortly before it was completely disabled.