Jan | Feb 2014


State Attorneys General Protecting Consumer Privacy
in the Digital Age

by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, National Association of Attorneys General President*

 

The Digital Age has transformed everything we do, from buying groceries to boarding an airplane, from treating an illness to socializing with friends and family. The Internet’s impact on our lives cannot be overstated, and its impact on the U.S. economy is almost incalculable.
Behind this extraordinary progress is a set of emerging technologies and business models that are challenging our ability to control how and with whom our private information is shared and redefining our understanding of privacy.
These developments in technology and enterprise have created new privacy risks for individuals and corporations alike. State attorneys general have been exploring the best ways to manage those risks.
Since becoming president of the National Association of Attorneys General—NAAG—in June 2012, I have been focused on strengthening state-based efforts to protect consumer privacy online and on mobile devices. I am gratified to see so many fellow state attorneys general assuming leadership over this important and ever-changing set of issues. We need to address legal and policy ground that will be with us for generations to come, ranging from cybersecurity and data mining to children’s online privacy and market solutions.
Attorneys general have long been champions of consumers and responsible businesses, and we have been actively protecting offline privacy for decades. Many of the state consumer laws we enforce were written with privacy in mind, like those concerning secure maintenance and destruction of records and those protecting personal information from disclosure.
These laws need to be modernized to reflect our digital era in which the very nature of privacy and personal information is changing. Attorneys general have before us an extraordinary opportunity to reorient our enforcement and advocacy efforts toward the unique privacy challenges posed by the digital economy.
Attorneys general are also playing a role in educating consumers. On April 15, NAAG and Facebook launched a new public awareness program designed to provide teens and parents with tools and tips to manage their privacy and visibility both on Facebook and more broadly on the Internet.
Twenty attorneys general taped a state-specific public service announcement titled, “What you Can Do to Control Your Information.” The PSA features Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, who concludes her remarks by saying, “Together, we hope to ensure that young people make safe, smart and responsible choices online.”
The PSA introduces an Internet safety video answering top questions about privacy, bullying prevention and general Internet safety. We also produced a tip sheet with specific steps to control what information you share and with whom you share it on Facebook. The materials are available on participating attorneys general offices’ Facebook pages and websites, as well as on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fbsafety.
We want this campaign to encourage consumers to closely and actively manage their privacy, resulting in a safer online experience. My hope is that with understanding and knowledge, we can protect online privacy and provide meaningful options for privacy control while continuing to enhance our lives and our economy.