Police officers and criminal investigators at both the state and federal level have broad authority and discretion in the investigation of criminal activity. Officers can and do employ a wide variety of tactics to gather incriminating information. Officers do not, however, have authority to do whatever they want. There are limits to what tactics they can employ during investigations and failure to stay within those limits can and should be met with a legal response.
A federal agent is currently facing a lawsuit over actions he took during an out-of-state drug investigation. The woman who is suing the agent was apparently arrested on cocaine charges. The agent reportedly used the woman’s photographs and other personal information from her cellphone to set up a fake Facebook account in an effort to elicit incriminating online statements from her friends and those believed to be associated with the activity.
The government has previously defended the practice of utilizing social media sites to conduct investigations, but in this case the Drug Enforcement Agency has agreed to mediate the dispute, a sign that they may not be as confident about the agent’s actions in this case. The case is a civil action rather than a criminal one, but the heart of the issue is privacy.
Privacy is a critical consideration in criminal investigations, especially drug investigations. Officers have at their disposal various means to do their work, but they must do so while respecting the privacy of suspects. New technologies have pushed the bounds of what may be considered private and what may not, and these issues must be handled by the legal system from time to time.
One of the benefits of working with an experienced attorney in a criminal defense is that any privacy issues at play in the case will receive the time and attention they need. In some cases, failure to respect privacy can end up significantly weakening a criminal case, and defendants need to work with an advocate who will help them taken advantage of available protections.
Source: ABC News, “Drug Agency Sued Over Its Fake Facebook Account,” Alicia A. Caldwell, October 7, 2014.