An agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is being sued for using images and information taken from an arrested New York woman’s cellphone and using them to attempt to trick others into providing secrets about an illicit drug operation.
Buzzfeed originally reported on the situation, detailing how Sondra Arquiett was originally arrested in July 2010 for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Upon her arrest, Arquiett did agree to help federal prosecutors, however, in court filings she states that she never explicitly allowed the DEA to gather pictures from her cellphone and create a fake account.
The Department of Justice disagrees, stating that Arquiett did not directly authorize DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen to create a fake facebook account but she “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.”
Sinnigen was attempting to use Arquiett’s contacts to locate other drug dealers, namely her boyfriend who was accused of being part of a large drug distribution network. He confiscated private information and photographs from her cellphone to create a facebook profile under the name Sondra Prince. The account was active for three months without Arquiett’s knowledge. In that time Sinnigen was acting as if he was Arquiett and attempting to communicate with potential business partners. The profile has since been taken down.
After the story broke the Department of Justice announced that they would review the incident and the practice. The trial for the case begins next week in Albany, New York. Arguiett is attempting to argue that she has suffered “fear and great emotional distress” and possibly put in danger because the page indicated that she was cooperating with the DEA’s investigation.
Nate Cardozo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told CBS, “If I’m cooperating with law enforcement, and law enforcement says, ‘Can I search your phone?’ and I hand it over to them, my expectation is that they will search the phone for evidence of a crime – not that they will take things that are not evidence off my phone and use it in another context.”
In the age of paid government trolls it is important to practice a culture of security and be weary of who you communicate with and who you give access to your information. Arquiett’s case might serve as a helpful reminder to those who believe they can trust the authorities. My advice: Never cooperate with the police or the federal government.