Facebook complained that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency committed a “serious breach of Facebook’s terms and policies” when it set up a fake Facebook account and impersonated a criminal suspect in order to communicate with other criminals, the company wrote in a letter to the DEA on Friday.
The letter is a response to a lawsuit filed by Sondra Arquiett who was arrested in 2010 following a joint investigation with the Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement agencies. Officers seized her phone and subsequently set up a Facebook account using photos that were on her mobile device, without Arquiett’s knowledge or consent, in an attempt to correspond with other criminals.
The DEA justified its breach of privacy by claiming the Facebook profile was used for a “legitimate law enforcement purpose” and that Arquiett gave the agency implicit consent to access the information on her device to aid in further investigations.
Facebook does not think the DEA’s excuses are justifiable. In a letter to DEA administrator Michele Leonhart, first reported by BuzzFeed, Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s chief security officer, said the company was “deeply troubled by the DEA’s claims and legal position.”
Most fundamentally, the DEA’s actions threaten the integrity of our community. Facebook strives to maintain a safe, trusted environment where people can engage in authentic interactions with people they know and meet in real life. Using Facebook to impersonate others abuses that trust and makes people feel less safe and secure when using our service.
Facebook requires everyone to use their “real names,” or names and identities that can be verified using identification like drivers licences or student IDs. The company recently found itself in hot water over its real names policy when a number of drag queens discovered they had been kicked out of their accounts for using stage names.
Facebook eventually acquiesced, and allowed those individuals to use their stage names, but reiterated that the policy is in place to protect people from harm, and that it’s against Facebook’s policy to create fake accounts using fake names.
Law enforcement agencies are subject to the same rules as any other user, and Facebook quickly disabled the Arquiett account created by the DEA.
“Facebook has long made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies,” Sullivan wrote, “Facebook asks that the DEA immediately confirm that it has ceased all activities on Facebook that involve the impersonation of others or that otherwise violate our terms and policies.”
Photo courtesy of Marco Paköeningrat on Flickr