Chicago police have free rein to use fake social media profiles to spy on people and eventually make arrests. This is seen as a more aggressive and potentially illegal use of social media by law enforcement. Previously, cops scanned social media posts to track down protesters.
Documents obtained by The Intercept revealed that the Chicago Police Department has a task force called Social Media Exploration (SOMEX) that is overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). The team uses fake social media profiles, created by the FBI, to catfish and investigate people.
The documents state that the photos in the fake profiles should be “uniquely created and not attributed to an actual individual.”
Additionally, the officers are “authorized to take these online identities into the real world” to further assist investigations. But the fake profiles are only to be used if there is adequate “articulable suspicion” of crime.
The documents detail the FBI’s involvement in SOMEX. Aside from creating fake online personas, the FBI oversees “the day-to-day operations” of the task force.
In a statement about this story, the FBI said: “The FBI works with its federal, state, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement partners in task forces across the country in order to detect, investigate, and disrupt federal crimes and threats to national security and to protect the American people. In every instance, the FBI’s investigative activity complies with Department of Justice guidelines, applicable laws and the United States Constitution. The FBI does not investigate or collect information on solely First Amendment protected activity.”
The fake profiles on their own are a violation of Facebook’s community guidelines. The platform’s authenticity policy prohibits creating a profile that cannot be linked to a real person. Facebook has previously told police in Memphis and Los Angeles to stop using fake profiles.
Law enforcement using fake profiles to catfish criminals has for a long time been suspected as being a violation of the constitution but has faced few challenges.