The Maryland attorney general’s office on Monday launched a new Internet Privacy Unit designed to address the problem of privacy in the Internet age and to update “gaps” in companies’ online privacy policies.
The unit will also handle issues related to cyberbullying and cybersecurity, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said in an interview.
“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.”
Online crime has become a serious issue in Maryland. In 2011, Maryland ranked seventh out of 50 states in reported incidents of Internet crime on a per capita basis, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. By comparison, the District ranked second and Virginia ranked ninth.
Although crime is an issue, Gansler said, the new unit “isn’t actually under a criminal rubric. This is about the information you’re putting online — to whom it’s being disseminated, to who your information is being sold to, for commercial gain.”
The unit will also attempt to develop better ways to enforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prevents most companies from collecting personal information from children younger than 13.
Gansler said that although the law has been around for more than a decade, it is still difficult to enforce because it is relatively easy for children to lie about their age online.
“We have to decide whether or not we need to make it technically harder to lie about your age, or whether we need a kind of Facebook Jr. for kids that comes with higher privacy walls that they could use with their parents’ permission,” he said. “Only, we couldn’t call it Facebook Jr. because then no one would want to use it.”