Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Thursday wrote Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concerns over revelations that the Seattle office of the FBI created a fake news story to trap a teenage bomb-threat suspect.
Leahy, D-Vermont, in a letter sent Thursday, said that “when law enforcement appropriates the identity of legitimate media institutions, it not only raises questions of copyright and trademark infringement but also potentially undermines the integrity and credibility of an independent press.”
The Seattle Times published a story Wednesday, based on internal FBI documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that showed agents in Seattle in 2007 wrote a fake Associated Press story and sent it to a 15-year-old suspect in a series of bomb threats at Timberline High School. The story was sent in order to download secret software that identified the suspect’s location and computer address.
Leahy said the practice of appropriating the identity of individuals or companies by law enforcement carries “ethical and legal risks.”
Leahy expressed similar concerns in a letter to Holder on Oct. 21 after the Drug Enforcement Administration used an unsuspecting young woman’s identity to created a fake Facebook profile to ensnare drug traffickers. That tactic, he said, put the unwitting woman and her family at risk. He said he expected the Justice Department to “reconsider the use of such techniques.”
“I appreciate the difficult challenges faced by law enforcement by the changing nature of technology,” Leahy wrote. “Yet we cannot lose sight of the need for law enforcement to maintain the trust and confidence of the people they protect.
“Tactics such as these may ultimately prove counter-productive if they erode the public trust in the judgment and integrity of law enforcement officers,” he wrote.
Ayn Dietrich-Williams, spokesman for the Seattle FBI office, said officials were reviewing the letter and had no immediate comment.
Paul Colford, a spokesman for The Associated Press in New York, said Thursday the international wire service has raised “our own concerns about this matter directly with the Justice Department.”