Over the past few months, many businesses, particularly in the Northeast Region, have been focusing on creating a written information security program (WISP) to comply with Massachusetts identity theft regulations that went into effect March 1, 2010. For many, this has been a significant effort, reaching most, if not all, parts of their organizations. However, it is important to remember that although Massachusetts may be the state with the most comprehensive set of rules for securing personal data, other states have enacted similar protections, and compliance with Massachusetts does NOT necessarily mean compliance with other states.

Consider the following examples:

California. The Civil Code in California states a business that owns or licenses personal information about a California resident must:

implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information, to protect the personal information from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure.

For purposes of this requirement, “personal information" means:

an individual’s first name or first initial and his or her last name in combination with any one or more of the following data elements, when either the name or the data elements are not encrypted or redacted:
(A) Social security number.
(B) Driver’s license number or California identification card number.
(C) Account number, credit or debit card number, in combination with any required security code, access code, or password that would permit access to an individual’s financial account.
(D) Medical information.

Similar pretections for medical information exist in Arkansas, but that information is not covered by the rules in Massachusetts. Illinois requires safeguards for certain biometric information, a classification of data also not covered by the Massachusetts regulations.

Oregon. Oregon’s Consumer Identity Theft Protection Act lays out safeguards similar to those in Massachusetts, with some relief for small businesses (those manufacturing businesses with 200 employees or fewer and all other forms of business having 50 employees or fewer). Key is the requirement to implement an “information security program” that contains administrative, technical and physical safeguards.

Administrative safeguards include, for example: 

  1. designating one or more employees to coordinate the program;
  2. identifying reasonably foreseeable internal and external risks;
  3. assessing the sufficiency of data safeguards;
  4. training employees in the program’s practices and procedures;
  5. limiting outside service providers to those maintaining adequate data security safeguards; and
  6. adjusting the program according to business changes or new circumstances.

In New Jersey, regulations are pending that would create similar obligations.

Connecticut. Without specifying the kinds of safeguards, Connecticut requires any person in possession of personal information of another person to:

safeguard the data, computer files and documents containing the information from misuse by third parties, and [ ] destroy, erase or make unreadable such data, computer files and documents prior to disposal.

For purposes of this law, “personal information” includes:

information capable of being associated with a particular individual through one or more identifiers, including, but not limited to, a Social Security number, a driver’s license number, a state identification card number, an account number, a credit or debit card number, a passport number, an alien registration number or a health insurance identification number.

Similar requirements were enacted in other states, including Arkansas, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, and Utah. But note the definition in Connecticut goes beyond the elements of data protected under the Massachusetts regulations.

Service contracts. Some states go a step further, requiring certain provisions be included in contracts between entities and their service providers when the contracts involve the disclosure of a state resident’s personal information from the owner of the information to the service provider. For example, such contracts in Nevada and Maryland must include a provision requiring the person to whom the information is disclosed to implement safeguards to protect that information.

The emergence of state mandates fueled by the continued rapid advancement and increased use of technology suggest a trend that is sure to become a fact of life for businesses operating anywhere in the U.S. Whether the technology is “cloud computing” or “peer-to-peer” software, businesses need to take appropriate steps to protect personal information maintained throughout their organizations.