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Facebook's move: Will it dampen Internet criminal surveillance?

Recent news accounts chronicle the potential for users' privacy on the Internet to be materially eroded, if not outright eviscerated.

Online privacy has emerged as a major public concern in recent years, as leaps-and-bounds surges in technology-fueled monitoring tools have put consumers front and center as exceedingly vulnerable targets of law enforcers' surveillance efforts.

The direct attempt by police agencies and other state/federal investigatory entities to directly peer in on Internet users as they interact with various platforms online -- some critics openly use the word "spy" -- is certainly problematic.

The practice -- reportedly growing exponentially, with estimates positing millions of dollars spent each year on surveillance tools by enforcement agencies across the country -- raises fundamental questions regarding warrantless searches, enforcers' probing for criminal conduct absent probable cause in the first instance and other matters.

And now there is this: the clearly troubling reality of monitoring companies that troll social media sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of others), gathering massive amounts of personal data in the process and then selling it to third parties.

Alarmingly, "third parties" often means law enforcers, who are then the recipients of an online goldmine of information. Some of that data can ultimately end up in the hands of prosecutors seeking to obtain criminal convictions on matters ranging widely from sexual offenses and drug crimes to white collar offenses and other matters.

Facebook recently announced a "no more" stance to that, with the company prominently noting that it will immediately ban any entity that in the future uses "data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance."

Concededly, Facebook's move spells a small step, considering the nearly incomprehensible vastness of actual and potential government surveillance upon the public, but privacy and civil liberty advocates are calling it a welcome development.

And they are hoping it will signal a movement that yields greater privacy protections in the future.

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