On July 19, 2012, Kamala D.
Harris, the Attorney General of California, announced that she was forming a
new group, the Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit, within the state's
Department of Justice. The group includes six prosecutors who specialize in
privacy, and its mandate is to protect consumer and individual privacy by civil
prosecution of companies that violate federal and California privacy laws. The
AG has indicated that protecting the privacy of state residents is one of her
top priorities. "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 AG declared. She further stated that
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."
Organization and Function of the Unit
The group will not limit its focus to companies based or incorporated in
California, but rather will also scrutinize other companies that do business in
the state. The new unit's mission to enforce and protect privacy is a broad
one. It will enforce laws that regulate the collection, retention, disclosure,
and destruction of private data, whether by individuals, organizations, or
government. This includes laws that relate to various types of data, so as to
enforce cyber privacy, health privacy, privacy in government records, and
financial privacy, as well as to investigate identity theft and data breaches.
Organizationally, the new unit is part of the electronic crime
("eCrime") unit, founded in 2011 to prosecute identity theft, data
intrusions, and crimes involving the use of technology. The eCrime Unit has
been providing investigative and prosecutorial support to the five California
regional high-tech task forces that are funded through the High Technology
Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Trust Fund Program. The eCrime unit has also
been providing coordination for out-of-state hi-tech crime investigation
requests, and developing and providing training for law enforcement officers,
prosecutors, the judiciary, and the public on cyber safety and the importance
of robust data security practices.
The new unit centralizes the department's initiatives to protect privacy,
including enforcement, education, and establishing partnerships with both
industry and innovators. In creating the unit, the AG hoped to combine the
various privacy functions of the department into a single enforcement and
educational unit with privacy expertise, so as more effectively to enforce
privacy laws and protect residents' privacy rights. In addition to its
prosecutorial function, the group has a major educational function, which
includes informing companies about what the AG views to be their privacy obligations,
and informing residents of their privacy rights. The educational effort is
headed by Joanne McNabb, Director of Privacy Education and Policy. Ms. McNabb
formerly headed the California Office of Privacy Protection, recently shuttered
due to budget constraints, which was apparently the first privacy-dedicated
entity created by a state to educate its residents about their privacy rights.
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