Facebook reprimands US drug agency for impersonating woman

20 Oct 2014

Facebook has sent a strongly worded letter to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) after the organisation obtained a woman’s images and used them to create a fake profile on the social network.

The woman in question, Sondra Arquiett, is now suing the DEA, claiming its actions violated her privacy and placed her in danger. 

As reported by Buzzfeed, Arquiett’s mobile phone was seized in July 2010 after she was arrested on drug charges. Photographs taken from the device were used to set up a Facebook profile under her then-name, Sonda Pryce, with the purpose of contacting suspected criminals. Some images were of a provocative nature, including a shot of Arquiett “in her bra and panties”. Another featured her young son and niece.

In a letter written by Facebook’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, the company has criticised the DEA’s actions and asked for confirmation that no further fake accounts exist.

“We regard the DEA’s conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook’s terms and policies,” wrote Sullivan.

“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.”

The DEA’s response

Arquiett plead guilty to her 2010 drugs charges and was sentenced to probation, which she has since completed. Responding to the now 28-year-old’s legal proceedings in a court document, the US Department of Justice claimed the DEA had permission to use the images to assist its investigations.

“Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover 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].”

However, Facebook has dismissed that defence, with Sullivan writing that the social network is “deeply troubled by the DEA’s claims and legal position”.

“Most fundamentally,” he continued, “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 the 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. Indeed, as we have observed at Facebook, such deceptive actions are often used to further harmful conduct, such as trolling, hate speech, scams, bullying, and even domestic violence. This impact is markedly different from undercover investigations conducted in the ‘real’ world.”

The profile was accessible as recently as 7 October, when Buzzfeed first broke the news of its existence. As such, the website was able to obtain some of its content.

Facebook profile images via Buzzfeed

No fake Facebook profiles

Unlike many other social networks, Facebook prides itself on insisting users only log on with their real names and identities. The company was, however, recently forced to apologise to drag queens and the transgender community after deleting several hundred of their accounts that used alternative names.

“I want to apologise to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks,” chief product officer Chris Cox wrote in a Facebook post.

“We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we’re going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.”

Facebook image via Shutterstock

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic