Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday blasted a Drug Enforcement Administration's agent's "exploitation" of a woman, impersonating her on Facebook without her knowledge in the hope of catching suspected criminals.
"I am greatly concerned by recent reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration used the identity of an unsuspecting young woman to create a public Facebook profile to interact with suspected drug traffickers. This extraordinary tactic placed this woman and her family at risk, and I expect the Justice Department to reconsider the use of such techniques," Leahy wrote in a letter to the Department of Justice.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York has defended the DEA's actions, acknowledging that while the woman "did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page," 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 an ongoing criminal investigations.”
"This level of consent should in no way be viewed as permission for federal agents to use the contents of her cellphone to publicly interact with suspected criminals under her name. This exploitation put her and the minor children in her photographs at risk without their knowledge," Leahy wrote.
Leahy said that while he understands cooperating defendants often provide critical assistance to criminal investigations, the decision to cooperate and the nature of that cooperation is a decision that only the defendant can make. Law enforcement agencies, Leahy wrote, should not risk the safety of innocents or those who are serving their debt to society without their knowledge or consent.
"I hope the Justice Department will agree that creating an online profile using an unsuspecting person's identity to communicate with criminals is unethical, potentially dangerous, and should not be condoned by our nation's law enforcement agencies," Leahy concluded.
The woman whom the DEA agent impersonated, Sondra Prince (formerly Sondra Arquiett), was arrested on drug-related charges in 2010. She pled guilty to those charges in 2011 and has since completed her sentence. After her arrest, law enforcement officials used the private photos on Prince's confiscated phone to create a Facebook profile in her name and without her knowledge.
Timothy Sinnigen, the agent who set up the fake profile, allegedly made contact with at least one known fugitive while pretending to be Prince, according to Gizmodo. Prince's fake profile, which has been removed since TheBlaze's earlier reporting, showed photos of her sitting on the hood of a car in shorts and a tank top and holding two young children, whom BuzzFeed reported were her son and niece.
The DEA did not respond to a request for comment from TheBlaze regarding Leahy's letter.
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