Compliance Management, Government Regulations

Federal judge approves use of fake Instagram account to obtain case evidence

A federal judge in New Jersey has approved of law enforcement's use of a fake Instagram account to collect evidence on a man suspected of stealing millions of dollars worth of jewelry.

Daniel Gatson was charged with conspiracy to transport and receive stolen property and interstate transport of stolen property, according to the court's opinion. Gatson and conspirators allegedly ransacked multiple households in wealthy areas around the country, some of which were located in New Jersey. In one instance, Gatson and two others broke into a home in Holmdel, N.J., and stole about $7,000 in jewelry. Law enforcement tracked each member's cell phone location and determined that they were nearby multiple burglaries, including the Holmdel case, and during that robbery, an authorized wiretap was used to intercept a call between two of the men.

The recently published court opinion refutes Gatson's claims that information was obtained unlawfully by law enforcement. Gatson specifically challenges the use of his Instagram account to get information about the case. He argued that there was no “probable cause to search and seize items in his Instagram account,” the opinion says.

United States District Judge William Martini wrote that when Gatson accepted a friend request from an undercover Instagram account that was consensual, meaning no search warrant is required for the type of information obtained.

“Gatson's motion to suppress the evidence obtained through the undercover account will be denied,” Martini wrote.

The case is being compared to a similar one regarding a Facebook account created by a federal agent. In that case, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent used photos off a woman's seized cell phone to create an account and communicate with suspected criminals, according to BuzzFeed News.

The incident was under review in October and denounced by Facebook. 

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