Undercover Cops Break Facebook Rules, Create Fake Accounts To Track Protesters

NBC News reports that police are breaking Facebook rules by creating fake accounts in order to spy and track people, including protesters:

Police officers around the country, in departments large and small, working for federal, state and local agencies, use undercover Facebook accounts to watch protesters, track gang members, lure child predators and snare thieves, according to court records, police trainers and officers themselves.

Some maintain several of these accounts at a time. The tactic violates Facebook’s terms of use, and the company says it disables fake accounts whenever it discovers them. But that is about all it can do: Fake accounts are not against the law, and the information gleaned by the police can be used as evidence in criminal and civil cases.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sued the Memphis Police Department for allegedly violating a 1978 agreement that banned police from conducting surveillance of lawful protests.

Police Detective Tim Reynolds claimed on Facebook to be “Bob Smith,” a “fellow protester” and a “man of color,” even though he is white.

Reynolds was reportedly spying on Black Lives Matter activists (who oppose police brutality) and Confederate sympathizers.

The Memphis Police Department refused to comment, but Facebook’s legal team told the police in September to stop using fake names, notes the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Facebook has made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies. We regard this activity as a breach of Facebook’s terms and policies, and as such we have disabled the fake accounts that we identified in our investigation.

We request that the Police Department, its members, and any others acting on its behalf cease all activities on Facebook that involve impersonation or that otherwise violate our policies.

An unidentified New Jersey cop, who uses a fake Facebook account, admitted how prevalent the ruse is to NBC News:

Every high-tech crime unit has one. It’s not uncommon, but we don’t like to talk about it too much.

NBC News reports how judges are supporting the use of fake Facebook accounts by police:

Judges in New Jersey and Delaware have upheld investigators’ use of fake social media profiles. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Cincinnati Police Department and the Chicago Police Department have publicly boasted of using undercover Facebook accounts in cases against accused child predators, gangs and gun traffickers…

[T]he Department of Justice promised in 2014 to review the agency’s policies ─ but the department did not respond to multiple requests to say what has changed.

Several law enforcement agencies, including the New York Police Department, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center, have policies that explicitly allow the creation of fake profiles, with some conditions ─ including obtaining prior approval from a superior and limiting interactions with targets.

Facebook says it strictly enforces its ban on fake accounts by using “detection technology,” but won’t say how often it has taken action against police for using fake accounts, only that it has done so “many times.”

In October 2014, Sondra (Price) Arquiett sued the DEA because DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen used stored pictures and information in her cell phone to make a fake “Sondra Price” Facebook page, reported Buzzfeed News.

In response, the Justice Department claimed it had the right to set up fake accounts using real people’s pictures and names on Facebook.

The Free Thought Project has published some tips on how to identify a fake police Facebook account:

  1. Account was made recently 2017, 2018.
  2. Account has no history published for earlier years, but Facebook says they have been a member since 2009, etc.
  3. Most fake accounts have 1 image or no real profile photo of the person. Some may only have a select few photos over a long span of time. A well seasoned user would have more photos posted over a long period of time. A fake account may have 7-10 photos posted on the same day.
  4. User has very few friends in common and or friends in general.
  5. There is little to no interaction on their page with friends, no comments, likes or responses over their long time line.
  6. Profile picture seems to good to be true, that hot model added you today! They even messaged you and are interested in you!
  7. When in doubt use reverse image search. Take their image and see if it is a real person or not. You can do that here.
  8. When in doubt deny, deny, deny.

(Sources: NBC News, Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Free Thought Project, Buzzfeed News)

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