(NEW YORK) — A New York woman says the U.S. government violated her constitutional rights when a federal law enforcement agency created a fake Facebook account for her without her knowledge or permission, and she wants the government to pay her $500,000 in damages.
In a little-noticed lawsuit filed last year, Sondra Arquiett of Albany, N.Y., accuses a Drug Enforcement Administration agent of using her name, personal information and countless private pictures, including “suggestive” photos, and pictures of her young son and niece, to build the Facebook account in 2010.
DEA agent Timothy Sinnigan created the account while Arquiett was being prosecuted for her alleged involvement in a drug-trafficking ring, and he used the account, “to initiate contact with dangerous individuals” that were part of the alleged ring, according to documents filed in federal court.
Arquiett insists the DEA maintained the fake Facebook account for three months without her knowledge or permission, and that she consequently, “suffered fear and great emotional distress,” according to her lawsuit. In addition, her lawsuit says the Facebook account put her “in danger” because it created the appearance that she was, “willfully cooperating in [DEA’s] investigations of the narcotics trafficking ring.”
But the DEA insists that’s exactly what she was doing — willfully cooperating in the investigation. In response to the lawsuit, the DEA filed documents in court saying that while she did not give “express permission” for the fake Facebook account, she did grant authorities access to the photos on her cellphone and consented to the DEA using that information to aid the ongoing investigation. Therefore, she “implicitly consented” to the fake Facebook account, the DEA contends.
Arquiett first lodged the allegations against the DEA during a public back-and-forth over her sentencing in the case. More than a year before she filed her lawsuit, her defense team raised the same concerns in her criminal case.
She ended up pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine base, admitting that from April 2008 to July 2010 she was part of a group that sold crack cocaine in upstate New York. She was sentenced to six months of weekend incarceration and six months of home detention.
BuzzFeed News was the first to report on Arquiett’s lawsuit and its allegations, and until yesterday the fake Facebook page was still online. However, after the report, Facebook took down the page, saying, “We removed the profile because it violates our community standards,” Buzzfeed noted.
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