Facebook warns Memphis police against using fake accounts

(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Sep. 24, 2018 at 10:13 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The legal team at Facebook has fired off a letter to the Memphis Police Department.

The social media giant says MPD needs to stop creating fake accounts to monitor citizens.

This September 19 letter addressed to MPD Director Michael Rallings reads in part:

“The police department should cease all activities that involve fake accounts. We regard this as a breach of Facebook’s terms and polices."

"They’re not supposed to be spying on people who haven’t violated the law,” said University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy.

MPD created a fake account under the name "Bob Smith" to befriend and keep an eye on activists online. The ACLU took MPD to federal court, saying this violated a 1970's court order prohibiting MPD from spying on citizens.

Mulroy says even though Facebook wasn't around in the 70's, the order still applies.

"It says don't spy on people,” Mulroy said. “It doesn't matter what technology you're using. That violates the letter and the spirit of a federal court order designed to protect our civil liberties.”

The Facebook letter goes on to say:

“We have disabled fake accounts that we identified in our investigation.”

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Facebook deactivated six other fake accounts managed by Memphis police.

When asked for comment an MPD spokesperson said, “We have received this letter; however, the account that was opened under the name of Bob Smith was deleted in the latter part of July.”

The spokesperson did not comment about any additional phony accounts.

"So this is more evidence of an attitude of not really caring about that federal court order, which should be a concern to any of us,” Mulroy said.

The judge in last month's ACLU hearing hasn't decided what punishments, if any, MPD faces for violating the consent decree.

Facebook, specifically because of the MPD case, updated its guidelines for law enforcement agencies.

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