Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler began his year as president of the National Association of Attorneys General with a pledge to help ensure online privacy.
Before his swearing-in Thursday night in Alaska, Gansler said he will work with his colleagues to ensure information provided by online consumers and social networkers is disseminated only in ways they have agreed to and are aware of.
Gansler’s year-long privacy initiative will include meeting with leaders of social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, mounting public education efforts and developing new laws, he added.
“The Internet is still very nascent,” Gansler said. “The laws governing the Internet are very much behind.”
In many ways, the World Wide Web is “not that dissimilar from people listening to your phone calls,” he said.
Internet privacy was the first and only issue Gansler considered in selecting a year-long initiative, a tradition among NAAG presidents, Gansler said. Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, whom Gansler succeeds, chose human trafficking as the issue for his presidency.
In the coming year, Gansler said he wants to rally his colleagues to prevent the unapproved dissemination of private information, combat cyberbullying and protect intellectual property online.
Consumers must have “an opportunity to opt out, in whole or in part,” from a website’s efforts to share information about a user’s buying habits, as well as a right to know to whom a website plans to sell their personal information, he said.
State attorneys general must lead the effort to protect online privacy, as the federal government’s focus is properly on homeland security, and local law enforcement is most concerned with preventing street crime, Gansler said.
“The attorneys general have increasingly filled the vacuum of policing the Internet,” he added.
Privacy “really is a nonpartisan issue” around which Democratic and Republican attorneys general can rally, he said.
“I didn’t want politics to seep into any of the decisions or presentations that we [attorneys general] make,” said Gansler, a Democrat.
The Internet privacy issue is not new for Gansler. In March, he held a public forum on the issue at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.
Gansler, who served as president-elect for the past year, assumed the presidency during NAAG’s Annual Summer Meeting in Anchorage, where the daytime temperature Thursday was 56 degrees.
Told of the nearly triple-digit temperature outside his Baltimore office, Gansler said he has not had much opportunity to enjoy the weather, as NAAG’s indoor sessions have been nearly nonstop.
“It’s definitely cooler out here,” Gansler said. But “it will be nice to be home.”
NAAG’s members include the attorneys general of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and the chief legal officers of U.S. territories.
Gansler is the first Maryland attorney general to be NAAG president since Francis B. Burch in 1970.