Can the federal government steal your identity in order to trick your social circle into incriminating themselves? That question will hit the court system next week when a woman suing the federal government for “catfishing” her friends has her case heard in New York.
The Drug Enforcement Administration set up a fake Facebook account for Sonia Arquiett, who was arrested in a cocaine case, in order to lure her friends to reveal “incriminating drug secrets.” The feds claim that Arquiett consented to the ruse because 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.”
It’s important to note here that Arquiett did not have a Facebook page, but rather the government took pictures of her and her son off of her cell phone and used them to create a Facebook account in her name.
An attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation rightly described such justification as “laughable.”
“If I’m cooperating with law enforcement, and law enforcement says, ‘Can I search your phone?’ and I hand it over to them, my expectation is that they will search the phone for evidence of a crime – not that they will take things that are not evidence off my phone and use it in another context,” Nate Cardozo said.
And the government admits it did not have Arquiett’s explicit consent. From the government’s filing: “Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page.”
At first the DOJ defended its behavior but has since said it is “reviewing its practices.” Spokesman Brian Fallon said “that officials are reviewing both the incident and the practice.”
Arquiett said in her filing “she suffered ‘fear and great emotional distress’ and was endangered because the fake page gave the impression that she was cooperating with Sinnigen’s investigation as he interacted online with ‘dangerous individuals he was investigating.'”
The case is scheduled for trial next week in New York.