Data Security Law Deadline Looms

January 22, 2010

Despite the temporary relief provided by the six-month extension to June 1, 2010 of the Identity Theft Red Flags regulations deadline, businesses that are located in Massachusetts, or who have customers or employees that are domiciled in Massachusetts, find that they must maintain their focus on data security for another reason – the Massachusetts data privacy regulations compliance deadline is March 1, 2010. 

Like the Red Flags regulations, the Massachusetts law deadline has been extended multiple times since its first deadline of January 1, 2009. In addition, the implementing regulations were twice revised in response to feedback received from affected businesses concerning the strict encryption requirements and the "one size fits all" mandate for the written security program that the original regulations imposed.

The Massachusetts Data Security Law (MGL Chapter 93H) and its implementing Regulations (201 CMR 17.00) (the "Massachusetts Regulations") apply to anyone engaged in commerce, and specifically, those who "store" personal information, in addition to those who receive, maintain, process, or otherwise have access to such information. The Massachusetts Regulations apply to the personal information of Massachusetts residents, whether they are customers or employees. Thus, the reach of the Massachusetts Regulations is not limited to businesses located or operating in Massachusetts. There are no exceptions or exemptions, so that both for-profit and non-profit organizations located inside and outside of Massachusetts must comply. 

"Personal information" is defined as a Massachusetts resident's first name and last name, or first initial and last name, combined with one or more of "(a) Social Security Number, (b) drivers license or state-issued identification number, or (c) financial account or credit or debit card number, with or without any required security code, access code, personal identification number or password, that would permit access to a resident's financial account." Publicly available information is not included provided it has been lawfully obtained.

The requirements of the Massachusetts Regulations are comparable to the FTC's Safeguards Rule. This Rule requires financial institutions subject to the federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to maintain the security of their customers' personal financial information by evaluating security risks and adopting a written security program, and to oversee service providers' practices with respect to such personal information. Similarly, the Massachusetts Regulations impose a duty on every person that owns or licenses personal information to develop, implement, and maintain a written comprehensive information security program (WISP). The recent revisions permit the business to take a risk-based approach to information security, much like the federal Safeguards Rule's approach. The WISP must address the administrative, technical, and physical safeguards utilized. However, the size and scope of the business, as well as its resources, and the nature and quantity of data collected or stored, may be taken into account in developing the WISP.  

The original version of the Massachusetts Regulations imposed specific technical computer security elements. The revised version retained the specific listing of these elements as guidance only, by adding a standard of technical feasibility, so that the requirements are technology neutral. 

Finally, the Massachusetts Regulations require businesses to oversee service providers, with the requirements revised to be consistent with federal law. Thus, a business is required to perform reasonable due diligence in selecting a service provider to determine that it uses appropriate security measures to protect personal information, and to contractually require such measures of their service providers. 

As noted above, the deadline for compliance is March 1, 2010. The law is enforced by the Massachusetts Attorney General. Businesses with customers or employees in Massachusetts need to prepare and finalize a WISP, after reviewing and evaluating their information security operations and procedures. The suggested elements of a WISP are included in the Massachusetts Regulations, but as the revisions to the Regulations make clear, these are not intended to be a rigid template. The Regulations now recognize that the nature and operations of the businesses that are subject to the law vary considerably, and like the Identity Theft Red Flag Program requirements, each WISP will be unique based upon the particular business. Additionally, businesses subject to the Massachusetts Regulations need to review their outsourcing contracts that affect personal information to determine compliance with the Regulations by their service providers. The deadline for updating service provider contracts is March 1, 2012.

For additional assistance with the Massachusetts Regulations, the Identity Theft Red Flag Regulations, or the FTC Safeguards Rule, contact Jane Hils Shea at jshea@fbtlaw.com, or any attorney in the Privacy and Information Security Practice Group at Frost Brown Todd.

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