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DEA claims the right to post fake Facebook profile of real woman

DEA claims the right to post fake Facebook profile of real woman
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

You would think I was crazy if I said it was okay to steal a young woman's identity, start a false Facebook page in her name, and then post her racy photos lifted from her smartphone.

Crazy or not, the U.S. Justice Department is saying a DEA who did exactly that, had every right to do so.

In a little-known court filing, the Justice Department is claiming that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman by secretly creating a bogus Facebook page in her name and likeness - without her knowing. In fact, Government attorneys are even defending the agent's right to scour the woman's smartphone and then post her personal photos.

Here's a peek at the profile:

Facebook profile

The special agent included some racy images on the fake profile as well. One photo showed her on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, and in another she wore only skimpy attire (either a bikini or underwear). If that weren't enough, there was even an image of her son and niece.

fake profile

The justification given for the fake profile

Sondra Arquiett went by Sondra Prince at the time these events took place. She first learned her identity had been used in 2010 when a friend asked her about some pictures she had posted online.

She was completely confused. She didn't even have a Facebook page. At least she thought she didn't.

But there was the account in her name complete with her personal photos. It was set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Timothy Sinnigen. He explained that the forged social media account was used to communicate with suspected criminals. His actions have been fully backed by the DEA and the Justice Department.

Surely we want the DEA to capture dangerous criminals by any means necessary, right? Or do we? When does our right to privacy stop and the government begin?

But there's more to what led to special agent Sinnigen's idea for a fake Facebook profile.

Shortly before the DEA agent made the Facebook "fakie," officers arrested Arquiett alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge recognized that she was a bit player who accepted responsibility and sentenced her to probation. While she awaited trial, the special agent created the fake Facebook page with her real name and the private photos he got from her phone.

All of this happened without Arquiette's knowledge.

In the aftermath, the Justice Department referred all questions to the DEA, who then referred all inquiries to the local U.S. Attorney's Office in Albany, New York. There has been no response to multiple interview requests.

Facebook also had no comment. However, the site's "Community Standards" reads, "Claiming to be another person, creating a false presence for an organization, or creating multiple accounts undermines community and violates Facebook's terms." A Facebook spokesperson did offer that there is no policy exception for law enforcement.

If that were not enough to chew on, the profile remained up for months after Prince found out about it. If any of you ever read George Orwell's animal farm, this entire scenario reminds of the quote, "All animals are equal ... but some animals are more equal than others."

Could the agent still get in trouble?

The case hasn't gone to trial yet. But if and when it does have its day (meaning there was no settlement to make it go away), I will be sure to let you know how it all shakes out. For now, it appears with all the new things we can do with technology, there are many instances where there aren't any rules yet. I would imagine that this surprising story will eventually result in one.

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