A DEA agent used a woman's identity—along with private pictures from her phone—to create a fake Facebook profile without her knowledge, BuzzFeed reports. The government is defending the agent's actions in the scheme to connect with potential criminal targets. In a court filing, officials say special agent Timothy Sinnigen had the right to impersonate Sondra Arquiett (who went by the name Sondra Prince at the time) and use photos from her seized phone, among them revealing images and a picture of her young son and niece. The account was created after Arquiett was arrested for alleged involvement with a drug ring in 2010; she didn't find out about it until a friend asked about the pictures later that year, BuzzFeed notes.
Before Arquiett's trial began, Sinnigen established the Facebook page and used it to communicate with a fugitive and investigate the drug ring. Prince, whose probation sentence in the case has ended, is now suing Sinnigen, citing endangerment and a breach of privacy; her lawsuit claims he used the Facebook account for at least three months without her knowledge. Officials argue that in allowing access to her phone for use in criminal probes, she "implicitly" approved the use of her photos. Outside experts aren't so sure: "I may allow someone to come into my home and search," says one, "but that doesn't mean they can take the photos from my coffee table and post them online." The case doesn't appear to be isolated: Officials have previously used fake Facebook profiles; the Washington Post notes that may not be illegal, but doing so does break site rules, (Read more Facebook stories.)