Tuesday, 28 October 2014 17:42

The US DEA created a fake Facebook profile to catch crims Featured


Oddly both Facebook and the person whose real images were used are both furious, while the DEA remains confused by the brouhaha.

It must be wonderful to be able to break the law with impunity. How else can the DEA's actions be explained.

Some time ago (in 2010) a young lady by the name of Sondra Arquiett was arrested in the US as part of a major drugs investigation. It turned out that she was only a minor player and was eventually sentenced to six months of weekend imprisonment followed by another six months of home detention. This was completed and certified by her probation officer. She's a free woman.

Or not.

During her arrest, her mobile phone was seized and (amongst other things) the images she'd stored there were copied from it by Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Timothy Sinnigen (these images were at best PG, but still they were hers).

Perhaps that was legal. The next step probably wasn't.

While she was awaiting trial on those drugs charges, Special Agent Sinnigen created a bogus Facebook page on Arquiett's behalf (at the time she was known as Sondra Prince, and that was the name used for the profile) in an attempt to lure other drug peddlers into the DEA's noose - we are not told of any successes.

iTWire will not publish the stolen images used in the fake profile; suffice to say that other outlets are not as squeamish as we are.

Via the Facebook page, Sinnigen communicated with at least one wanted fugitive (admirable behaviour, of course), but entirely without Arquiett's knowledge.

Even more bothersome was that one of the images published by Sinnigen was of Arquiett's son and niece. Clearly neither had been arrested previously and could not have consented to their images being used.

Arquiett has sued the DEA, and Sinnigen specifically, alleging (amongst other things) that "on or about August 13, 2010, Sinnigen appropriated Plaintiff's name and likeness to create a publicly available Facebook account that purported to be an account belonging to Plaintiff. Sinnigen created the account without Plaintiff's knowledge or permission."

There are many more claims that follow.

Of some interest are claims such as; "Sinnigen maintained the Facebook account for a period of at least three months without Plaintiff's knowledge, during which time the revealing and/or suggestive photographs of Plaintiff remained displayed and available on Facebook.

"When Plaintiff learned of Sinnigen's actions, she suffered fear and great emotional distress because, by posing as her on Facebook, Sinnigen had created the appearance that Plaintiff was wilfully cooperating in his investigation of the narcotics trafficking ring, thereby placing her in danger."

Later in the court filing, it is stated, "On July 12, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a timely Notice of Claim to the DEA with regard to Sinnigen's invasion of Plaintiff's privacy, his appropriation of her name and likeness, and his infliction of emotional distress upon the Plaintiff."

To describe what can only be an act of sheer bastardry, the complaint continues, "At times subsequent to the filing of Plaintiff's Notice of Claim, the counterfeit account reappeared on Facebook and was publicly available to persons known to the Plaintiff."

On January 9th, 2013 the DEA "administratively denied Plaintiff's claim."

And then, Facebook weighed in. They were NOT happy.

In a letter to the DEA, Facebook's Chief Security Officer, Joe Sullivan spelled out a long list of Sinnigen's transgressions in regard to the site's terms of use. He also reminded the DEA that exceptions to the terms of use were NOT made available to law enforcement agencies.

In addition, Sullivan demanded that the DEA has "taken all necessary steps to prevent further unauthorised use of Facebook by the DEA and its agents."

At this point, it gets weird. With no disrespect to Apple or its founder, the Jobs reality distortion field gets a major airing.

In a legal response, the DEA seems to assume that special rules apply (are they above the law?).

In this filing the DEA states, "Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the creation of the Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations (sic)."

In other words, and before the matter ever went to trial, the DEA (and Sinnigen in particular) concluded that Arquiett was clearly linked to a drugs environment and that she would be suitable bait for the organisation to lure bigger fish. Once she'd been arrested, her mobile phone suddenly became a treasure trove for the DEA to consume.

Presumably this implicit consent was (by some mythical power) further extended to the minors (her son and niece) in one of the images.

Currently the case is in mediation.


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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.



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