DEA Agent Creates Fake Profile With Photos Pilfered From Woman's Seized Phone
Although Facebook is part of a movement to use real identities online—"Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity," CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said—there are at least 83 million fake profiles on Facebook, by the company's own estimation. Like the old joke about the mathematician in Scotland, we know at least one of those profiles is a federal agent's.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and one of its agents, Timothy Sinnigen, have found themselves in court after Sinnigen pilfered the seized photos of a woman named Sondra Prince and created a fake profile to bust an alleged drug ring in New York City. Prince has sued Sinnigen and the DEA and the case is in mediation. The Washington Post reports:
One matter that's agreed upon by all parties: Sinnigen, who is claiming qualified immunity from the suit, created the profile and posed as her in contacts with at least one fugitive connected to a DEA investigation.
"Sinnigen posted photographs from [Prince's] phone, to which he had been granted access, to the undercover Facebook page," an August court filing by the government states. "… Defendants admit [Prince] did not give express permission for the use of the photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state [that Prince] implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her phone."
Translation: All the pics were fair game. Even ones showing Prince scantily dressed, which Sinnigen used in the fake profile. "Defendants admit that in one photograph of [Prince] that was used on the undercover Facebook page, [she] was wearing either a two-piece bathing suit or a bra and underwear," the filing states.
The DEA believed Prince was a girlfriend of the alleged drug ring's leader and she pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute (that is a real charge in the war on drugs). Sinnigen used his knowledge of her boyfriend and her to impersonate her better. Other cops admit to using fake Facebook profiles in their investigations, for things like finding illegal punk shows, but the practice runs afoul of the company's policy.
Related: In 2012 two Texas pre-teens were charged with online impersonation for creating a fake Facebook profile of another girl.