Dealing with Data Breaches: Health Net Suit Highlights Need for Effective Security Incident Procedures and Training
As we have discussed before, data breach notification is one of the most rapidly emerging areas of law. Good security incident procedures as well as effective training can help avoid the risk of data breach. (Sample data breach training).
A case in point: Connecticut's Attorney General has filed a civil action against Health Net of the Northeast Inc. (“Health Net”) for failing to secure approximately 446,000 individuals’ patient information on a missing portable computer disk drive, and for failing to provide prompt notice of the breach. Among other things, the suit alleges Health Net violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, when it failed to provide prompt notice, failed to encrypt the data, failed to provide for and implement appropriate policies to safeguard the information, and failed to supervise and train its workforce on safeguarding protected health information and personal information.
As this suit demonstrates, state Attorneys General will use the authority granted by HITECH to enforce the privacy and security protections of HIPAA for protected health information, as many breaches involving such information may not be covered by state data breach laws. Such enforcement will only add to the cost of a data breach, which, according to the 2009 Ponemon Institute Annual Cost of a Data Breach study, continues to rise.
While a company’s first line of defense always should be a comprehensive data security policy, preparation should include an effective security incident procedure. Several key questions, some of which will form the foundation for any good security incident procedure, must be answered immediately following a breach:
- How did the breach occur?
- Are measures in place to contain the breach?
- What information was compromised?
- Whose information was compromised?
- Will the local authorities be alerted?
- What potential breach notice laws are implicated?
- Does notice of the breach have to be provided?
- If so, to whom and how will notice be provided?
- Does the company have applicable insurance to cover the notification process?
- Will any monitoring service be provided for affected individuals?
- Are measures in place for public relations implications?
However, a security incident procedure is only as strong as the awareness you create among your employees as to what constitutes a data breach and who to notify in the event of a possible breach. Therefore, in addition to an effective security incident procedure, it is essential that training, like the sample above, be provided to employees on a regular basis.