Unless someone has a nosy family member or friend, most people in Maryland assume that their communications over Facebook and other social networking sites are private or, at least as private as their privacy settings allow. The truth is, however, that many Internet sites, including Facebook, monitor what their users say on chats and personal messages in an effort to find suspected child predators.
But, how does a chat or message lead to an arrest on suspicion of solicitation of a minor over the Internet? Many businesses have computer programs that scan language and notify someone when it comes across a conversation that is potentially dangerous. The problem is, however, that these programs could lead to false reporting, meaning that a company's employees will read a private message, only to find out that there is nothing suspicious or criminal about the communication.
While this will certainly lead to numerous false-positives, it will also be a widespread violation of an individual's right to privacy; it is akin to bugging a residence. If an individual or a company bugged a person's house, however, he, she or it would get into serious trouble. Individuals have a right to privacy, including the communications they thought were personal.
As these Internet giants continue to use technology to spy on their users, it also raises questions about the validity of the initial investigations. Just because an Internet company says someone may be soliciting a minor over internet does not necessarily mean the police will have enough probable cause to make an arrest.
Source: Huffington Post, "Facebook's Hunt For Child Predators Meets Uneven Success: Other Social Sites Face Similar Problems," Joseph Menn, July 12, 2012