Facebook is not the only social network where undercover cops are hanging out and trying to make friends. Undercover officers might also be among those asking to follow you on Instagram if they suspect your private account harbors artfully photo-filtered evidence of misdeeds.
Daniel Gatson spent a decade in prison for a string of burglaries in New Jersey in the ’90s; among those whose houses he looted was Patrick Ewing, making off with the former NBA player’s jewelry, fur coats, electronics, Lincoln Navigator and Mercedes Benz. When Gatson got out of prison in 2012, he allegedly got right back into the burglary game. Law enforcement spent nearly a year investigating him, collecting his email, monitoring his phone, and even bugging a minivan he rented. Law enforcement got court orders for most of this information collection, but not for peeping at his Instagram account. According to court filings, Gatson had wisely made his Instagram account private so casual visitors wouldn’t see him posting photos of himself with considerable bling. But he unwisely said “yes” when an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a normal Instagram user asked to follow his account.
According to court filings, “as part of its nearly year-long investigation into Gatson and other co conspirators, law enforcement officers used an undercover account to become Instagram ‘friends’ with Gatson.” (The filings don’t say whether Gatson followed the undercover account back, or whether the undercover account ‘hearted’ any of Gatson’s photos.) According to an FBI agent on the case, Gatson “used the Instagram account to display photographs of himself with large amounts of cash and jewelry, which were quite possibly the proceeds” from his burglaries. Gatson tried to challenge prosecutors using the incriminating selfies against him in court, saying the undercover Instagram bestie violated his 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure by friending him without probable cause. The judge in the case was unswayed, denying his request to suppress the evidence collected by the undercover Instagram account, ruling that police don’t need a warrant for “the consensual sharing of this type of information.”
Undercover officers have been haunting social networks for years, but they’ve started to get more creative in how they go about getting people to accept friend requests. Earlier this year, Buzzfeed reported that a DEA agent used photos downloaded from an arrested woman’s phone to create a fake Facebook account in her name in order to communicate with a wanted fugitive. Facebook complained to the DEA that the practice violated its terms of service and asked the drug-combating agency not to impersonate people on its site in the future. The Justice Department said it would review the practice.
Image from: gettyimages