|The DEA assumed a suspect’s Facebook profile in an attempt to lure her friends into admissions of guilt|
Ever since Notre Dame University star football player Manti Te’o was caught up in a lie about a relationship with a girl who never existed, the word “catfished” has become more and more of a household term.
There was a movie in 2010 by the name of Catfish, which spawned the MTV show of the same name, which has somehow made it through three seasons on the culturally bankrupt cable television station. Even the Urban Dictionary has the phrase listed, defining it as: “Being deceived over Facebook as the deceiver professed their romantic feelings to his/her victim, but isn’t who they say they are.”
Well, it turns out that the DEA may be the hipsters of catfishing online, since they’ve been doing it since way before the mainstream caught on. But a new lawsuit by an admitted drug dealer may cause your Facebook “Friends” list to get pared down a bit.
So yeah, just think of the “To Catch a Predator” dude. Law enforcement has been using catfishing tactics and fake names for many years to bust would-be child molesters, usually with little or no blowback from society. You tend to get some wiggle room when you’re busting pervs.
But now they seem to be applying those same last-resort strategies in everyday ongoing drug-related criminal cases; stealing logins, usernames, and photos from US citizens, and using them to drum up crimes, or admissions of crimes, from the Friends list of the hacked profile.
Sondra Arquiett was arrested in July of 2010 on charges of possession and intent to distribute coke in the region surrounding Waterton, NY.
She pled guilty to the charges in early 2012, admitting that from 2008 to 2010 she was an accomplice in her boyfriend’s drug distribution ring.
As part of their investigation, the police confiscated Arquiett’s cell phone as evidence. What they did next lies at the root of her current lawsuit.
The DEA took her phone, and using photos and logins stored in the phone’s memory, they assigned an agent to monitor and use Arquiett’s Facebook page in her name, in an attempt to squeeze out any more evidence or suspects in their case against the drug ring.
Arquiett is now taking the federal government to court, claiming that the actions taken by DEA agents in assuming her online identity caused her a great deal of “fear and emotional distress”. She says that law enforcement efforts made through her Facebook profile led “dangerous” people to think that she was working with the ongoing police investigation surrounding the busted drug ring.
Initially, the government wholeheartedly defended its catfishing, including the messages they wrote as her, saying how much she missed her boyfriend. Lazy police work, or vicarious flirting, neither leaves the DEA looking very good.
They tried to somehow justify their actions by alleging that the profile was “private” and was only being used to target potential suspects, but reporters who performed a simple search on the ultra-popular social media site were able to pull up the full fake profile with no restrictions.
They admit that Arquiett never totally, exactly, technically gave the DEA permission to assume her identity and post her private photos at will, but that 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.”
Needless to say, she disagrees, and she is asking the courts for $250,000 to ease her “suffering”.
Her case is still pending, so nobody is saying much to the media from either side of the debate. The Justice Department has promised a full investigation into the matter, but again, the feds have already defended their actions in the case, though their argument was awfully weak.
Facebook’s guidelines on the matter are crystal clear, however, stating, “You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.”
But in the end, the age old adage applies, with a bit of a Gen-X twist: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer…and your Friends List private.