Feds pay woman $134K over fake Facebook profile used in drug case

The federal government has changed course in a drug investigation in which agents pulled a woman’s photos from her cell phone without her permission and used them to create a fake Facebook account that sought to trap drug dealers.

When Sondra Arquiett of New York sued over the incident last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency first claimed that she had granted implicit consent to use the photos, but now the government will instead pay Arquiett $134,000 to make the case go away.

The case first surfaced last year when BuzzFeed discovered court filings that described how, in 2010, law enforcement agents arrested Arquiett on drug charges and then surreptitiously took racy photos from her phone, including one showing her sitting astride a BMW in small shorts.

The DEA then created a Facebook profile purporting to be Arquiett and used it to contact at least one member of a drug ring. Arquiett only discovered the account when another friend asked her about it.

In her lawsuit, Arquiett sought $750,000, claiming invasion of privacy, violation of her constitutional rights and emotional distress.

The federal government’s decision to settle the case was likely wise in light of increased attention paid by the Supreme Court and activists to privacy violations involving cell phones and social media.

According to the AP, which reported the settlement, the Arquiett deal does not specifically preclude the DEA from using such tactics in the future; however, a spokesperson did say the Justice Department was meeting with law enforcement to “make clear the necessity of protecting the privacy and safety of third parties in every aspect of our criminal investigations.”

Facebook has also stated that it does not approve of law enforcement creating fake profiles.