In honor of Data Privacy Day, we provide the following “Top 10 for 2017.”  While the list is by no means exhaustive, it does provide some hot topics for organizations to consider in 2017.

1.  Phishing Attacks and Ransomware – Phishing, as the name implies, is the attempt, usually via email, to obtain sensitive or personal information by disguising oneself as a trustworthy source. The IRS reported a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents in 2016 and dedicates a page on its website to phishing and online scams. A relatively simply, yet extremely effective safeguard against such an attack is for organizations to advise employees (especially those in HR and Payroll) to be on the lookout for email requests, often appearing to come from a supervisor, for the personal information of all, or large groups of, the company’s employees. Before responding electronically, employees should verbally confirm such requests. This is especially true as organizations begin the W2 process and are compiling large amounts of personal information.

In some cases delivered by a phishing attack, ransomware is a type of malware that hackers use to stop you from accessing your data so they can require you to pay a ransom, often paid in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, to get it back. According to the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, ransomware attacks have quadrupled, occurring at a rate of 4,000/day. These agencies and the Federal Trade Commission have offered guidance to help curb these attacks. Among other things, the guidance urges organizations to be prepared. A great start to combat ransomware’s effectiveness is for your organization to consider whether you maintain regular backups of your electronic systems.

2.  Safeguards Required to Protect Personal Information State laws continue to emerge and expand requiring businesses to protect personal information. Joining states such as Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Oregon, Illinois businesses must implement and maintain reasonable safeguards to protect personal information beginning January 1, 2017, and California clarified what it means to have reasonable safeguards. Similar rules go into effect in Connecticut beginning October 1, 2017, for health insurers, health care centers, pharmacy benefits managers, third-party administrators, utilization review companies, or other licensed health insurance business. And, during 2017 in New York, entities regulated by the state’s Department of Financial Services, such as banks, check cashers, credit unions, insurers, mortgage brokers and loan servicers, and some of their subcontractors, likely will become subject to a complex set of cybersecurity regulations many view as the first of their kind in the country.

3.  Big Data, Analytics, AI, Wearables, IoT New technologies and devices continuously emerge, promising a myriad of societal, lifestyle and workforce advancements and benefits including increased productivity, talent recruiting and management enhancements, enhanced monitoring and tracking of human and other assets, and improved wellness tools. This will continue in 2017, and will require an unprecedented and unimaginable collection of data, which very often will be personal data. Federal agencies, such as the FTC and EEOC, and others are taking note. While these advancements are undoubtedly valuable, the potential legal issues and risks should be considered and addressed prior to implementation or use.

4.  HIPAA Privacy and Security Enforcement – The Office for Civil Rights continues in enforcement mode in 2017, announcing two settlements so far in January 2017, totaling nearly $3 million.  In one action, the agency addressed for the first time the 60-day rule for providing notification of breaches of unsecured protected health information. In this case, the covered entity discovered the breach involving 863 patients on October 22, 2013, but did not notify OCR until January 31, 2014, about 41 days late. The settlement amount was $475,000, or approximately $11,500 per day. OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels reminded covered entities that they “need to have a clear policy and procedures in place to respond to the Breach Notification Rule’s timeliness requirements.”

5.  Breach Notification Laws – There are currently 47 states with breach notification laws, and they continue to be updated. For example, beginning in 2017, California businesses and agencies can no longer assume that notification is not required when personal information involved in the breach is encrypted. Illinois also changed its breach notification law, effective January 1, 2017, to, among other things, expand the definition of “personal information” to include medical information, health insurance information, and unique biometric data. These laws continue to evolve and be amended to address the extensive amount of sensitive data that is stored electronically.

6.  The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) – 4,860 TCPA lawsuits were filed in 2016 according to statistics compiled by WebRecon LLC. This represents an almost 32% increase over 2015 and marks the 9th consecutive year where the number of TCPA suits increased from the preceding year. With the SCOTUS decision in Campbell-Ewald making defense of class actions under the TCPA more difficult, we expect the number of TCPA suits to continue to grow in 2017. Many of these suits are not just aimed at large companies.  Instead, these suits are often focused on small businesses that may unknowingly violate the TCPA and can result in potential damages in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.  Understanding the FAQs for the TCPA and taking steps to comply with the TCPA is a great first step.

7.  The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield – GDPR has been adopted, and while it will not apply until May 25, 2018, there is a lot to do to get compliant. For example, GDPR adds a data breach notification requirement for data controllers; if notification is required, it must be provided to the data protection authority within 72 hours. Also, the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield data transfer agreement (“the Privacy Shield”) was reached to replaced the EU-U.S. Safe Harbour agreement which was invalidated on October 6, 2015, by the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) ruling in Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner. As of August 1, 2016, organizations based in the U.S. were able to self-certify their compliance with the Privacy Shield. Please review our detailed Q&A on some of the most common questions.

8.  President Trump – As we near the end of the President’s first full week in office, it remains to be seen just how the new administration will address privacy and cybersecurity issues. We considered some of these issues shortly after the election based on the President’s campaign which may provide some insight while we await more clarity from the White House.

9.  Social Media Investigations – Social media use continues to grow on a global scale and become more and more prevalent for organizations. This is especially true as generations who have lived their entire lives in a Social Media World represent an ever expanding percentage of the workforce.   User profiles or accounts are regularly sought and reviewed in litigation and/or employment decisions.   While public content may generally be viewed without issue, employers need to be aware of how they are accessing social media content and ensure they are doing so consistent with state laws protecting social media privacy and avoiding access to information they would rather not have.

10.  Be Vigilant and Watch for Changes – As more and more personal information and data is available and stored electronically, it is important for organizations to realize this data is extremely valuable, especially in the wrong hands. To this end, and as outlined above, organizations should be constantly assessing how best to secure their electronic systems. This is particularly true as the law and industry guidance are constantly changing and evolving in an effort to keep up with technological advancements.