Facebook Profile Ends Up in Courtroom Folly

Facebook Profile Ends Up in Courtroom Folly

U.S. Department of Justice Agent Sinnigen as well as the US Government is in a little bit of hot water after the agent created a fake Facebook page without the consent of the person it represented.

The Arrest: Sondra Arquiett, who was arrested in July of 2010 after being accused of involvement in a drug ring, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. At the time of her arrest, her personal items were surrendered, including her mobile phone along with her consent to access its data to help with investigations.

The Fake Facebook Page: Agent Sinnigen; however, took Arquiett’s consent as permission to create a fake, publically-available Facebook page under the name “Sondra Prince,” an alias Arquiett used, placing pictures of her, Facebook Profile Ends Up in Courtroom Follyher son and her niece on the page. I assume these pictures were added to make the Facebook page look real and legit, and it worked, because Arquiett’s boyfriend was also caught and pleaded guilty.

The Lawsuit: Arquiett is suing, claiming that one of the photos of her was “half clothed” or as her lawyers put it, she is shown in her underclothes. (My concern is about the pictures of the innocent children that the agent used. Shouldn’t that be mentioned somewhere in the lawsuit?) As it stands, the judge will get an earful about how Arquiett suffered “fear and great emotional distress” because of the agent-created Facebook page and how this Facebook page placed Arquiett in danger because it indicated that she was “willfully cooperating” in the agent’s investigation. (In the drug community, this would classify Arquiett as a “tattle-tale” and could get her killed.)

Arquiett claims that her privacy rights were breached along with her right to equal protection under the law and due process, so she’s demanding more than $250,000 in damages.

The Government’s Response: The U.S. government has acknowledged that they are aware that Agent Sinnigen created the Facebook page, using it to send a “friend request” to a wanted fugitive and accepted friend requests from others. But, they are denying that the page was made “publically available.” The U.S. government also admitted that one of the photos included Arquiett “wearing either a two-piece bathing suit or a bra and underwear,” but denied that the photograph was “suggestive.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a US-based online privacy campaign group, has described the government’s rationale as “laughable.”

So, readers, now it’s your turn to express your reaction, opinions, thoughts and comments:

Does “help with investigations” translate to creating a fake Facebook page?

What would you do if the government made a Facebook page about you as part of a sting operation to interact with a wanted fugitive?

Is this an invasion of privacy or a legitimate way to protect the public?

What about exposing Arquiett’s child and her niece on Facebook? Should the agent get in trouble for this?

(Image source: AP and BCC blurred Arquiett’s face.)

Posted by Ginger Hill on Oct 13, 2014


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