Updated 1:20 p.m.
Facebook is serious about real people using real names on its service.
After initially cracking down on drag queens, the social network is going after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for using fake profiles.
It wants the DEA to know that it is not okay to create fake profile pages, even as part of ongoing investigations.
Facebook’s chief security officer sent a letter to the DEA yesterday saying that the agency is required to follow the same rules of honesty on Facebook as the rest of us, according to the AP.
That’s in the wake of an operation in which the DEA apparently created a fake profile page for a suspect, Sondra Arquiett. After arresting Arquiett in 2010, an agent created the fake profile in order to communicate with other suspects, probably hoping to catch them saying something incriminating. Arquiett subsequently sued the DEA, and is seeking $250,000 in damages.
Facebook isn’t happy, either.
“Facebook has long made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies,” Facebook’s security officer, Joe Sullivan, wrote, according to the AP. “We regard DEA’s conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook’s terms and policies.”
In the case of drag queens, Facebook initially cracked down on many individuals who were using their alter egos’ names on Facebook. The company subsequently clarified its policy, stating that the intention is to get people to use whatever names they’re known by in real life.
Update: BuzzFeed News initially broke the story, on October 6, about the DEA using a fake profile. The news-and-listicles site has also published the text of Facebook’s letter to the DEA. I’m including the text of that letter below.
We recently learned through media reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration created fake Facebook accounts and impersonated a Facebook user as part of its investigation of alleged criminal conduct unrelated to Facebook. Although we understand that the U.S. Department ofJustice is currently reviewing these enforcement practices, we write to express our deep concern about the conduct and ask that the DEA cease all activities on Facebook that involve the impersonation of others.
Facebook is a community where people come to share and interact using their authentic identities. As our Chief Product Officer recently explained, this core principle is what differentiates Facebook from other services on the Internet. And requiring people to use their real identities on Facebook is “the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm. The deceptive actions violate the terms and policies that govern the use of the Facebook service and undermine trust in the Facebook community.
As you know, Sondra Arquiett has sued the DEA and a DEA agent in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. Ms. Arquiett claims that she was arrested on drug charges in 2010, at which time her mobile telephone was seized. Soon thereafter, a DEA agent seized digital images stored on Ms. Arquiett’s telephone, including “revealing and/or suggestive photographs” of Ms. Arquiett in her bra and panties.
The agent then created a fake Facebook profile in Ms. Arquiett’s name; posted “revealing and/or suggestive photographs” of her; and sent friend requests and communicated with other individuals pretending to be Ms. Arquiett through the fake account.
The DEA does not dispute Ms. Arquiett?s essential allegations. But the DEA claims that Ms. Arquiett “implicitly consented” to the agency?s conduct “by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use ofthat information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations Facebook is deeply troubled by the claims and
Most fundamentally, the actions threaten the integrity of our community. Facebook strives to maintain a safe, trusted environment where people can engage in authentic interactions with the people they know and meet in real life. Using Facebook to impersonate others abuses that trust and makes people feel less safe and secure when using our service.
Indeed, as we have observed at Facebook, such deceptive actions are often used to further harmful conduct, such as trolling, hate speech, scams, bullying, and even domestic violence. This impact is markedly different from undercover investigations conducted in the “real” world.
Moreover, our terms and Community Standards which the DEA agent had to acknowledge and agree to when registering for a Facebook account expressly prohibit the creation and use of fake accounts:
- Claiming to be another person, creating a false presence for an organization, or
creating multiple accounts undermines community and violates Facebook’s terms.
- You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
- You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates
someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.
- You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or
Facebook has long made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies. We regard the conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook?s terms and policies, and the account created by the agent in the Arquiett matter has been disabled.
Accordingly, Facebook asks that the DEA immediately confirm that it has ceased all activities on Facebook that involve the impersonation of others or that otherwise violate our terms and policies.