Calif. AG announces creation of privacy unit

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 20, 2012, 10:00am


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Thursday announced the creation of a unit that will focus on protecting consumers and individual privacy.

Under the California Constitution, all people are guaranteed the right to privacy.

The state Department of Justice's Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit will protect that right by prosecuting violations of California and federal privacy laws.

According to Harris' office, the unit centralizes existing justice department efforts to protect privacy, including enforcing privacy laws, educating consumers and forging partnerships with industry and innovators.

"In the 21st Century, we share and store our most sensitive personal information on phones, computers and even the cloud. It is imperative that consumers are empowered to understand how these innovations use personal information so that we can all make informed choices about what information we want to share," the attorney general said in a statement.

"The privacy unit will police the privacy practices of individuals and organizations to hold accountable those who misuse technology to invade the privacy of others."

Harris said the unit will enforce laws regulating the collection, retention, disclosure and destruction of private or sensitive information by individuals, organizations and the government. This includes laws relating to cyber privacy, health privacy, financial privacy, identity theft, government records and data breaches.

By combining the various privacy functions of the justice department into a single enforcement and education unit with privacy expertise, California will be "better equipped" to enforce state privacy laws and protect citizens' privacy rights, the attorney general said.

The unit will reside in the eCrime Unit, which was established last year to prosecute identity theft, data intrusions and crimes involving the use of technology, and will be staffed by justice department employees, including six prosecutors who will concentrate on privacy enforcement.

Joanne McNabb, formerly of the California Office of Privacy Protection, will serve as the Director of Privacy Education and Policy and will oversee the privacy unit's education and outreach efforts.

The creation of the unit follows the forging of an industry agreement among the nation's leading mobile and social application platforms to improve privacy protections for consumers around the globe who use apps on their smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices.

The platform companies who signed on to that agreement -- Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook, Google Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Microsoft Corporation and Research in Motion Limited -- agreed to privacy principles designed to bring the industry in line with California law requiring apps that collect personal information to post a privacy policy and to promote transparency in the privacy practices of apps.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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