Most Americans have been raised to believe that U.S. law enforcement organizations are on their side, and that government agencies exist to protect them. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is no exception to this assumption. It exists to protect innocent citizens from injuries caused by illegal drug use, and DEA agents are given a fair amount of leverage, as far as privacy policies go, in order to track down criminals.
But when news leaked that the DEA had been impersonating a real woman on Facebook — had been communicating with Sondra Arquiett’s friends and pretending to be her, and had hacked into her phone for her private photos, which were posted on the fake profile — Americans were outraged.
It’s a well-known fact that social media platforms are breeding grounds for fake profiles, but the notion that an official government agency would jeopardize the privacy of an innocent citizen in order to hunt down participants in one particular drug circle — that’s something that most Americans agree is simply out of line.
In an unprecedented move, Facebook directly confronted the DEA and made demands that it cease to impersonate other people. Facebook’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan wrote a letter to DEA official Michael Leonhart, demanding that the DEA delete Arquiett’s fake profile, and that all other Facebook impersonations run by the DEA be shut down as well.
In other words, a social media website is schooling a major government agency on what privacy and “integrity” really mean.
Arquiett is now reportedly suing the DEA agent who set up and run the fake profile under her name, and even though Facebook is clearly on her side, the larger U.S. Justice Department doesn’t seem to agree that the DEA did anything wrong.
Arquiett had been arrested previously for being involved in a drug ring, and while she was awaiting sentencing, DEA Special Agent Timothy Sinnigen created the Facebook profile page with her name. The Justice Department is insisting that the DEA has every right to impede on personal privacy when necessary, and the DEA claims that Arquiett had “implicitly consented” to the profile page when she gave law enforcement officials access to her cell phone for further drug-related investigations.
Americans are not pleased, to say the least.
Not only does this particular incident make citizens even more fearful of law enforcement officials, but it proves that even the highest government security programs need to be controlled with a checks-and-balances type of system.
“This case raises, yet again, the problem with a federal law enforcement agency that operates with little oversight from the courts,” said Raleigh criminal lawyer Damon Chetson. “Our founders understood the importance for checks and balances in our government. Going forward, people should understand that if they are communicating on social media, they may be speaking with a federal agent.”
While no one can predict how the scenario will play out, it’s certainly an interesting twist in roles. Whereas social media platforms are the classic culprits of privacy infringement, Facebook is now putting the DEA on the spot and making the government accountable for its actions.
Controlling the illegal drug business is certainly an essential task for the safety of American citizens, but this case is causing many to wonder, where should the government draw the line? And will other third-party groups have to force a line to be drawn?