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Why did the DEA set up a fake Facebook profile?

There is no question that the way we communicate has undergone some fundamental changes over the last decade. While email and phone calls once reigned supreme, texts and social media are now the preferred mode of communication for the majority of people. Indeed, people's Facebook pages enable them to stay connected with family and friends, keeping them apprised of personal developments 24-7.

Interestingly, the Drug Enforcement Administration is currently at the epicenter of a civil lawsuit filed by a woman claiming that an agent used photos and other information from her seized cell phone to create a fake Facebook page for the sole purpose of interacting with "dangerous individuals he was investigating."

The woman was arrested back in 2010 on drug charges at which time her cell phone was seized by the DEA. Even though she ultimately pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, the agent proceeded to use the pictures on her phone to create and continuously update a fake Facebook account as a means of investigating a New York-based drug ring with which she allegedly had prior ties.

The Justice Department defended the actions of the agent in its response to the civil lawsuit, which is seeking $250,000 in damages. Specifically, it claimed that the woman "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 remains to be seen how the case, which has since been sent to mediation, will play out. Nevertheless, some legal experts are concerned that this may serve as a dangerous and overly broad expansion of law enforcement's ability to exploit materials seized from suspects.

"I may allow someone to come into my home and search," said one law professor. "But that doesn't mean they can take the photos from my coffee table and post them online. It reeks of misrepresentation, fraud and invasion of privacy."

For its part, Facebook has sent a letter to the DEA asking that it shut down any existing fake profiles and refrain from this practice in the future.

Stay tuned for developments ...

Drug charges are a very serious matter requiring a very serious defense. If you've been charged with possession, trafficking or distribution, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

Sources: The Washington Post, "DEA created a fake Facebook profile in this woman's name using seized pics -- then impersonated her," Terrance McCoy, Oct. 7, 2014; The Huffington Post, "Facebook tells DEA to stop operating fake profile pages," Alicia Caldwell, Oct. 17, 2014

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