29 July 2012


California and Ontario remain the most interesting provincial jurisdictions in North America from a data protection and personal privacy perspective. They offer a perspective - and a benchmark - for policy development and practice in Australia, where several state  privacy and law reform agencies continue to move ahead of the national Office of the Australian Information Commissioner despite the recent (and alas very belated) profile-building campaign by the Privacy Commissioner Pilgrim.

California's Attorney General Kamala Harris recently announced the establishment of the Privacy Enforcement & Protection Unit in the state's Department of Justice, with a focus on protecting consumer and individual privacy through civil prosecution of state and federal privacy laws.
 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 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 indicated that the California Constitution "guarantees all people the inalienable right to privacy". In giving effect to that guarantee - presumably stronger than the "more or less" guarantee by Islington Council noted in the preceding post - the new unit will
protect this constitutionally-guaranteed right by prosecuting violations of California and federal privacy laws. The Privacy Unit centralizes existing Justice Department efforts to protect privacy, including enforcing privacy laws, educating consumers and forging partnerships with industry and innovators. The Privacy Unit’s mission to enforce and protect privacy is broad. It 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 Department of Justice 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 Privacy Unit will reside in the eCrime Unit and will be staffed by Department of Justice employees, including six prosecutors who will concentrate on privacy enforcement.

The Justice Department comments that
creation of the Privacy Enforcement & Protection 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.
 That agreement, recently joined by Facebook, includes Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Research in Motion. It is based on 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".