Legal Entrapment: Federal Judge rules It’s OK for cops to create fake Instagram accounts

A federal judge in New Jersey has signed off on the practice of law enforcement using a fake Instagram account in order to become “friends” with a suspect—thus obtaining photos and other information that a person posts to their account.

“No search warrant is required for the consensual sharing of this type of information,” United States District Judge William Martini wrote in an opinion published last Tuesday.

“[Defendant Daniel] Gatson’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained through the undercover account will be denied.”

The criminal case, known as United States v. Daniel Gatson, involves a man accused of perpetrating a long series of burglaries (taking primarily jewelry worth over $3 million in total) in New Jersey and neighboring regions. Gatson, representing himself in the case, had attempted to have the data collected from Instagram thrown out as he claimed there was no probable cause to search or seize such data.

In October 2014, BuzzFeed reported on an incident where a Drug Enforcement Agency officer created a fake Facebook page with photos that had been seized off of her phone during a 2010 arrest.

Jonathan Mayer, a scholar at the Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, who told Ars about the Gatson case, said he had never heard of a case involving Instagram.

“I can’t recall a previous instance involving Instagram, or more importantly, where a judge has approved the practice,” he told Ars. “I do think that’s unambiguously the correct application of Fourth Amendment precedent, though.”

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