WebWize Back-Up - Massachusetts Data Protection RegulationA First in Data Security Law
The nation's most stringent data security law, the Massachusetts Data Protection Regulation (MA 201 CMR 17), is now in effect. For the first time ever, a government body has mandated the use of a specific technology to enforce privacy regulations. Massachusetts (along with Nevada, who recently passed a similar law) requires that businesses encrypt all the transmitted, personally identifiable information (PII) of their customers.
Not only does this law apply to Massachusetts businesses; it applies to any firm conducting business with any resident of Massachusetts, including third-party vendors. In effect, any company who wants to sell anything to a resident of the nation's 13th largest economy must adopt these measures.
Largest Data Breach in History
These new regulations are being ushered in on the heels of the most significant data breach in history. In 2007, TJX Companies, based in Framingham, Mass., announced a data breach in which hackers exposed at least 45.7 million credit and debit card holders to identity fraud.
TJX has since settled a number of lawsuits and agreed to implement tighter security and obtain independent audits every other year for 20 years, according to a settlement reached with the Federal Trade Commission.
As a result of this catastrophic data loss, this new law was designed to protect consumers on three fronts:
- To insure the security and confidentiality of customer information
- To protect against anticipated threats or hazards to the security or integrity of such information
- To protect against unauthorized access to or use of such information that may result in substantial harm or inconvenience to any consumer
Yet the Massachusetts law is much more than an encryption mandate. Encryption is only a part of an overall information security plan that businesses must develop. Other computer system requirements include: secure user authentication protocols, secure access control measures, reasonable monitoring of systems, and up-to-date software.
Beyond system requirements, businesses are also accountable for making sure that their human resources can implement and maintain these programs. Business must: 1) designate one or more employees to maintain the security program, 2) provide ongoing employee training, and 3) develop security policies for employees relating to the storage, access, and transportation of records.
However, according to the Commonwealth, these safeguards should be appropriate to the size of the business, the amount of resources available to that business, and the amount of sensitive data stored. Essentially, the law requires businesses to put forth their "best effort" to ensure certain types of data are protected to the best of their ability.
If a public data breach does occur, the application of this law will hinge on the answer to the question, "Did you do everything within your power to protect this information?" To some extent, this nebulous definition can lead to legal debates of technical possibilities versus financial burden.
Businesses Are Culpable for Third Parties
In addition, businesses are also culpable for the security practices of any third party vendors that may have access to the PII of their clients. Companies take "reasonable steps" to select third-party service providers that maintain appropriate security measures.
Even before data is transported to our mirrored data centers, it is encrypted using 256-bit AES securityâ€”a more stringent level of security than even online banking institutions use. Our data centersâ€”located thousands of miles apartâ€”have biometric controlled access, 24/7 monitoring, and backup generators.
The Bottom Line
Though Massachusetts and Nevada are the first states to enact these strict data laws, the rest of the country is not too far behind. Californiaâ€”the largest state economy in the United Statesâ€”has enacted a notification law as has Virginia, Iowa, and South Carolina among others. It would behoove businesses across the country who handle PII to prepare as if a nationwide requirement was on the horizon. It makes good business sense to not only secure customers' data to the fullest extent, but companies who are proactive in protecting their customers will retain their loyalty and their business.
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