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Federal Court Says the Government Can Impersonate You on Social Media — and There's Not Much You Can Do About It

Image via Sondra Prince/ Facebook

Imagine finding out you have a Facebook page that you didn't actually create. It has your name, your private photos and all of your personal information — none of which you posted.

That's the discovery New York resident Sondra Prince made.

Prince, formerly Sondra Arquiett, alleges that after she was arrested on drug charges in 2010, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used the photos on her confiscated cellphone to create Facebook profile in her name and without her consent. It was only when one of her friends asked her about the photos that she found out, BuzzFeed reported.

Image via Sondra Prince/Facebook Image via Facebook

DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen, the agent who set up the fake profile, allegedly made contact with at least one known fugitive while pretending to be Arquiett, according to Gizmodo. Arquiett's fake profile, which is still active, shows photos of her sitting on the hood of a car in shorts and a tank top and holding two young children, whom BuzzFeed reported to be her son and niece.

Image via Sondra Prince/ Facebook Image via Facebook

In June 2013, Arquiett filed a formal complaint against Sinnigen on the grounds that her privacy was violated. However, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of New York ruled the DEA did nothing to overstep its authority.

"Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations," the court said.

Therefore, the court went on to state, "Plaintiff does not have a First Amendment Right to Privacy in the photographs."

Image via Sondra Prince/Facebook Image via Facebook

But privacy experts aren't buying the court's justification.

“I may allow someone to come into my home and search but that doesn’t mean they can take the photos from my coffee table and post them online," University of Pennsylvania law professor Anita Allen told BuzzFeed.

University of California law professor Elizabeth Joh called it a "dangerous expansion" of the idea of consent given the amount of information people store on their phones.

Regarding new technologies, Washington University law professor Neil Richards said, "There are a whole bunch of new things that are possible, and we don’t have rules for them yet."

The DEA deferred a request for comment from TheBlaze to the U.S. attorney's office for the northern district of New York, citing the "ongoing litigation matter." A U.S. attorney's office representative could not be reached.

Arquiett pleaded guilty to the drug charges in February 2011. Prosecutors later found that Arquiett was not as involved in the drug ring as they initially thought, so they recommended a reduced sentence rather than a life sentence she would have been serving. The court lessened her sentence to five years of probation, including six months of weekend incarceration and another six months of home detention, though a probation officer terminated the remainder of her sentence in March.

(H/T: Gizmodo)

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