Image result for north carolina attorney generalCiting to estimates in 2017 “more than 5.3 million North Carolinians were … affected by a data breach,” Attorney General Josh Stein and Rep. Jason Saine announced on January 8 proposed legislation aimed at protecting state residents from becoming victims of identity theft. To do so, the “Act to Strengthen Identity Theft Protections” (see fact sheet on proposed law) would, among other things, build on the state’s existing data breach notification law and require business to adopt reasonable safeguards to protect the personal information of North Carolinians.

Specifically, the Act would:

  • Expand definition of “breach.” The revised definition of “breach” would include situations involving the unauthorized access to or acquisition of an individual’s personal information. This change is intended in significant part to include “ransomware” attacks and, notably, to remove from the breached organization the discretion to determine the risk of harm. A similar approach is taken in guidance by the federal Office of Civil Rights which concerns ransomware and data breach response.
  • Shorten the notification period. Under the state’s current breach notification law, notice generally must be made without unreasonable delay, taking into account the legitimate needs of law enforcement, and consistent with any measures necessary to determine sufficient contact information, the scope of the breach and restore reasonable integrity, security and confidentiality of the data system. The Act would require that the breached entity notify the affected consumer(s) and the Attorney General’s office within 15 days, which would make North Carolina’s law mandate one of the shortest notification deadlines. The purpose of this change is to provide consumers more time to freeze their credit across and take other preventative measures before identity theft occurs.
  • Impose “reasonable safeguard” requirements for a broader set of personal information. Businesses that own or license personal information would be required to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices to protect the personal information from a security breach. This requirement follows other states such as California, Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts. Additionally, the Act would expand the definition of “protected information” to include medical information and insurance account numbers.
  • Require free credit monitoring. The Act would require five years of free credit monitoring to be provided to affected consumers for security breaches that occur at a consumer reporting agency. Thus, this requirement would not apply to all businesses subject to the law, just consumer reporting agencies that have a breach.
  • Strengthen penalty provisions. The Act would make clear that businesses that suffer a breach and are found to have failed to maintain reasonable security procedures will have committed a violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. In that case, when calculating penalties, each person affected by the breach would represent a separate and distinct violation of the law. If adopted, this provision should spur more organizations to take steps to maintain reasonable safeguards.

Individuals and commercial entities that conduct business in North Carolina and that own or license data in any form that includes personal information about North Carolinians should follow the progress of the Act, as well as developments in other relevant states concerning data protection requirements (See, e.g., update to Maryland’s breach notification law, effective January 1, 2018). However, even if the Act fails to become law, adopting and maintaining reasonable safeguards can help protect against a data breach which might be reportable in virtually all states, including North Carolina.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.