Colorado digital evidence consultant Chris Wells on Facebook and the Colorado Bar Association's sock puppet prerogative
By Susanna Speier
Denver Private Investigator Blogger
To get a second opinion on the stalking suspects safely issue discussed in the previous post, I asked Boulder based Computer and Cell Phone Forensic Examiner, Chris Wells about using
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Facebook to research suspects and/or persons of interest. Wells concurred with Jones' stipulation adding, "Facebook does not provide a 'who viewed my profile' capability."
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Facebook's terms of service explicitly prohibits the creation of a bogus profile. This means, using that fake name, photo and online identity, as private investigators sometimes do, is an ethical violation that could get a firm in hot water during testimony. It could also cost individual investigators their membership to a professional organization. Organizations like World Association of Detectives (WAD), National Association of Legal Investigators Professional Private Investigators (NALI) and the Association of Colorado (PPIAC) [Disclosure: the author of this article is an associate member of the PPIAC] all have ethical codes to help maintain the integrity of a profession that is frequently misrepresented in Hollywood. Section 2 of the PPIAC's code of ethics states, "We will not advertise our work, skill or merit in an unprofessional or misleading fashion and will avoid all conduct or practice likely to discredit or do injury to the dignity and honor of our profession."
"It's easy (though against Facebook policy)" Wells points out as an example, "to create a bogus Facebook profile, and use it to do things anonymously on Facebook. For example, I download a picture of you from the Web, create a 'Susanna Speier' Facebook account using that picture, then start friend'ing people with it."
In addition to violating Facebook policy it would violate Section 2 of the PPIAC code of ethics but not all of Colorado's licensed private investigators have trade organization memberships. To throw yet another monkey wrench into the ethical works, a 2017 regulation protecting Colorado attorneys' authority to "direct advise or supervise others" to, in essence, behave deceitfully. Rule 9.4 section C of the Colorado Bar is, in essence, a sock puppet prerogative.
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A demanding client can direct a Colorado private investigator to create an online decoy profile and use that profile to to obtain information on Facebook that he or she may not otherwise have access to, despite the precarious situation it would put their client and associates in if discovered.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Rule 8.4 section 3 is addressed by Colorado's new Attorney General, Phil Weiser now that the Attorney General responsible for putting it there in 2017, Cynthia Coffman, is out of office.
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