If you’ve watched the news lately, chances are you’ve seen the Equifax breach and the ridiculous fallout it has caused. Over 133 million personal records have been stolen. While it’s difficult not to feel individually victimized by such a breach, it’s important to remember that it’s often not your specific credentials targeted by hackers. Since businesses often hold onto valuable information, they have big crosshairs painted onto them. It doesn’t even stop there--any vendors or partners you deal with are also in danger of hacking attacks.
The Equifax breach, which resulted in 143 million records being stolen, has many people concerned about their data security and data breach notification laws--and rightfully so. One of the biggest points of contention with the Equifax breach was that it took so long for them to notify the public following the incident. We’re not here to argue the ethics of Equifax’s decision to withhold information on this breach--we just want to make sure that you understand the technicalities behind why it was acceptable for them to wait before notifying their customers.
At the time of writing this, 47 of the 50 states in the United States have data breach laws, with the only holdouts being Alabama, New Mexico, and South Dakota. While Alabama and New Mexico have at least introduced bills regarding data security and notification, South Dakota has yet to do so.
Another issue comes from the fact that these laws are state-exclusive with no unifying standards. Therefore, the laws could be very different from state-to-state. For example, New York’s law demands that notification of a breach should be given as soon as possible and without any unreasonable delay. Wyoming’s laws, on the other hand, require that notice of the breach be reported within a reasonable amount of time that does not exceed 45 days after the company is made aware of the breach. Florida requires notification within 30 days.
These notification deadlines aren’t necessarily steadfast, either. Did you notice how each of them allows companies to delay notification if there is a valid cause? Depending on the state, there may be various reasons for delay in notification. For example, criminal investigations and national security are both perfectly valid reasons to keep a notification of a breach delayed.
While there is no data breach law on the federal level, there are various industry-specific regulations. For example, there is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), both of which have specific data breach policies enforced by the federal government. Unfortunately, there is no federal law which spans a general data security policy, so states will be dealing with these issues in their own ways.
Due to Equifax being a financial institution, it’s expected to hold fast to the standards put into place by the GLBA. Since the GLBA doesn’t have a deadline to inform affected users, Equifax technically adhered to the regulations. In the eyes of the law, they did nothing wrong--even if they should have been morally obligated to inform users as soon as possible.
Even though there are different notification laws for each state, there are other aspects of data security laws that vary based on both the industry and the state vs federal level. Every state has different policies regarding who the laws affect, what exactly defines a breach, who must be notified, how they must be notified, how the laws are enforced (and penalized), and who is exempt from the law.
If you need to know more information about the data breach notification laws of your state, the National Conference of State Legislatures offers current laws for each state. Your business needs to know how it will be affected by a data breach. To learn more, reach out to MERIT Solutions at (757) 420-5150.