Earlier this month, we wrote about the DEA’s decision to set up a fake profile of a woman who was charged in a case related to drug dealing. The DEA argued that the woman’s “consent” to using evidence from her seized cell phone in their investigation included allowing them to (without telling her) set up a Facebook profile in her name, post pictures of hers and other children (from the phone) and “friend” people that the woman knew in real life, in an effort to get more evidence in the drug case. After the story got attention, thanks to a Buzzfeed article, the DOJ said it will“review the practice” of creating such fake Facebook profiles (implying this isn’t the only one).
Facebook itself has now stepped into the fracas, noting that the DEA’s actions are a “knowing and serious breach” of the site’s policies, and that those policies still apply to the government.
Most fundamentally, the DEA’s actions threaten the integrity of our community. Facebook strives to maintain a safe, trusted environment where people can engage in authentic interactions with the people they know and meet in real life. Using Facebook to impersonate others abuses that trust and makes people feel less safe and secure when using our service. Indeed, as we have observed at Facebook, such deceptive actions are often used to further harmful conduct, such as trolling, hate speech, scams, bullying, and even domestic violence. This impact is markedly different from undercover investigations conducted in the “real” world.
It further asks that the DEA “immediately confirm that it has ceased all activities on Facebook that involve the impersonation of others or that violate our terms and policies.” Of course, I wonder if it would even be possible for Facebook to figure out when the DEA sets up a fake profile, but it appears that this tactic by the DEA may not be usable going forward. You can read the full letter below or download it here (pdf).