ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) -- Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler announced Monday the formation of a new unit within his office focused on protecting the privacy of online users.

The announcement coincided with Data Privacy Day, a global campaign to make consumers more aware of their "digital footprint" -- that is, personal information and sensitive records that are collected, shared and stored online.

"Internet privacy is one of the most essential consumer protection issues of the 21st Century," Gansler said in a statement.

"I created this new unit to ensure that Marylanders who use the Internet every day have someone on their side, watching out for illicit online activities and working with key stakeholders to improve gaps in privacy policies."

Gansler's Internet Privacy Unit is an interdivisional unit that includes Chief Deputy Attorney General Katherine Winfree, Senior Advisor Antigone Davis, Consumer Protection Division Chief William D. Gruhn, Consumer Protection Division Deputy Chief Philip Ziperman and Assistant Attorney General Steve Ruckman, who is serving as director of the unit.

The unit will monitor companies to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal consumer protection laws, including the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which, in most cases, restricts companies from collecting personal information of children under 13 years old.

The unit also will examine weaknesses in online privacy policies and work alongside major industry stakeholders and privacy advocates to provide outreach and education to businesses and consumers to broaden awareness about privacy rights so they are more equipped to manage online privacy challenges.

Additionally, the unit will pursue enforcement actions "where appropriate" to ensure consumers' privacy is protected.

Gansler said the emergence and evolution of the Digital Age has created "new and significant" privacy risks for both consumers and businesses.

As current president of the National Association of Attorneys General, Gansler also is spearheading a national initiative called "Privacy in the Digital Age."

The attorney general said his initiative is focused on exploring the best ways to manage those risks -- from geo-location tracking to cyberbullying, from data collection to data breaches -- bringing the "energy and legal weight" of the NAAG to investigate, educate and take steps necessary to ensure that the Internet's major players protect online privacy and provide meaningful options for privacy control.

A three-day conference this spring will be the centerpiece of the yearlong examination, he said.

Last year, Gansler led a charge by 36 state attorneys general to demand accountability from Google when it unilaterally changed its privacy policy.

"The free flow of information in the Digital Age has made it easier for private records to fall into the wrong hands," Gansler said. "As we continue to combat those challenges, consumers should be vigilant with their online activities to ensure their privacy is not compromised."

As part of Data Privacy Day, Gansler also delivered a speech about his NAAG presidential initiative at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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