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Enough is enough: Facebook fires back at online surveillance

Colorado residents and Americans across the country are increasingly learning -- as proven criminal defense attorneys already know intimately well -- that online surveillance of an Internet user's behavior (such as specific site visits, downloads, uploaded photos, files and images, and so forth) plays a central -- and incessantly growing -- role in criminal probes and prosecutions.

Stories routinely surface these days about individuals who are criminally charged and prosecuted following evidence of wrongdoing that was uncovered on an Internet platform such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter.

Perhaps a person is seen in an online photo flashing a gang sign and a weapon. Maybe an individual is pictured holding a bag of cocaine. Perhaps a comment is posted regarding a sexual assault or act of domestic violence.

Whatever the case, there is a third-party audience trolling the web for such things.

And the market is staggeringly big. In fact, a recent national news report estimates that scores of law enforcement agencies across the country have shelled out millions of dollars for online tracking tools useful in conducting criminal surveillance on the general public.

And there is a special niche within that realm, namely, online social media monitoring companies. Those entities collect data and then offer it out to agencies willing to pay top dollar for the opportunity to amass an info trove of information that might eventually serve as evidence in criminal matters.

Social media giant Facebook has just called out that practice, citing its flat objections and stating that henceforth it will closely examine the accounts of monitoring groups and act upon evidence showing that they are advertising services that are arguably surveillance oriented.

If they are, says Facebook, it will cut them off.

Some commentators might reasonably view Facebook's stance as a minor tale in a major story of government surveillance, and with potentially limited application.

Still, it is a start and, unquestionably, proactive action taken that both spotlights growing public surveillance and seeks to put a dent in it.

As the above-cited media report notes, Facebook's stated policy could be a harbinger of things to come in terms of checked surveillance stances taken by companies, and thus "could help stop invasive data collection."

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