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Online Privacy Rights under Maryland and Federal Law

This guide was created in collaboration with
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Printable version of this Guide (PDF).

Online Privacy Rights under Maryland and Federal Law

Below is a brief summary of the state and federal laws protecting your online privacy rights.

US and Maryland flags flyingMaryland State Privacy Laws. Maryland has several laws that work to protect your online privacy. For example, the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (http://www.peoples-law.org/node/508) protects consumers from unfair and deceptive acts and practices, whether they occur online or offline. This law generally prevents companies from hiding important facts or falsely representing the facts related to consumer goods, services, property, or credit in Maryland. If you think someone is violating your rights under this law, you can call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division Hotline at (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023. You may file a complaint at http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/complaint.htm. If you have been damaged, you also have the right to sue the company that violated your legal rights in court.

Maryland law also requires that certain sensitive personal identifying information, such as your Social Security number, must be kept securely. The Maryland Personal Information Protect Act (http://www.oag.state.md.us/idtheft/businessGL.htm) requires that this information must be reasonably protected. This law also provides guidelines for letting you know if there has been a "data security breach," which means that your information was exposed to someone without permission to see it.

Finally, Maryland law protects you from having to give an employer a password to a personal account. The recently-passed Maryland User Name and Password Privacy Protection and Exclusions Law (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2012RS/chapters_noln/Ch_233_sb0433t.pdf ) says that Maryland employers may not "discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize" employees or job applicants for refusing to disclose a password or provide access to a personal account. This also means employers may not make hiring decisions on the basis of your refusing to tell them a personal password.

Lastly, Maryland offers a tool called the Identity Theft Passport, administered by this office, that helps consumers resolve financial issues caused by identity theft, and to help prevent a wrongful arrest if a thief uses your personal identifying information during the commission of a crime. More information about the Passport program is here (http://www.oag.state.md.us/idtheft/IDTpassport.htm), and you may download an application by clicking here (http://www.oag.state.md.us/idtheft/IDT_Passport_App.pdf ). A new state law passed in 2013 also allows parents and legal guardians to place a security freeze on their minor child's credit records that would prevent identity thieves from opening credit accounts in the child's name.

Federal Online Privacy Law. In addition to Maryland law, federal law also protects your privacy while online and on mobile devices. In general, federal law has different, specific privacy laws for different personal activities or categories of information. Some laws deal with financial privacy and credit reports, like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); some deal with health information privacy, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), and others address criminal history, education information, and employment records.
The most prominent agency in U.S. privacy regulation is the Federal Trade Commission (or FTC). The FTC is in charge of preventing unfair and deceptive practices in interstate financial dealings for most companies. If a nationwide company violates the terms of its privacy notice, for example, the FTC might take legal action. You can file a secure complaint online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/, or call the FTC's toll-free helpline at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). For more information, visit www.ftc.gov.

Other federal agencies preside over other types of conduct or information. Some examples of agencies that enforce federal privacy rights are the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Department of Education (ED), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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