The National Security Agency (NSA) recently released helpful guidance on how to effectively limit location data exposure for its staffers, which also can be helpful information for the general public. Businesses likely will have different perspectives about location data than the NSA, which is trying to protect its staffers and its vital national security missions. For business, they may want to have location data about their consumers and workforce members for several reasons, but some may not realize they are even collecting this data. As laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) begin to become more widespread in the U.S., business will need to be more deliberate and aware of the data they are collecting.

The NSA guidance provides an outline of categories of mobile device geolocation services and recommendations on how to prevent exposure of sensitive location information and limit the amount of location data shared. The NSA also recommends pairing its guidance with an earlier Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) security tip on privacy and mobile device apps.

As many businesses think about the categories of personal information they collect from consumers, members of their workforce, others, geolocation may be the last thing that comes to mind. However, businesses are increasingly deploying apps, mobile phones, and devices to further their business needs. Consider the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many businesses have obtained or developed various devices and apps enabling them to more efficiently screen employees and consumers for coronavirus symptoms and to maintain social distancing. The data collected by the use of those technologies may not be apparent; businesses may be more focused on quickly meeting CDC and state guidance. More traditionally, businesses  might provide their workforce members company-owned iPhones, fitbits for a wellness programs, tablets to interact with consumers, or some other smart device or app, while not realizing all of its capabilities or configurations.

“A cell phone begins exposing location data the second it is powered on because it inherently trusts cellular networks and providers. Devices’ location data, from GPS to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections, may be acquired by others with or without the user or provider’s consent,” states the NSA. “Anything that sends and receives wireless signals has location risks similar to phones, including Internet of Things (IoT) devices, vehicles and many products with “smart” included in the name.”

In virtually all cases, the NSA will have different considerations for collecting and managing location data. For businesses, such information can be helpful to serve legitimate business needs. However, under the CCPA, for example, businesses need to provide “consumers” (which currently includes employees and applicants residing in California) with a notice at collection. This notice must explain the categories of personal information that the business collects, and one of those categories is geolocation data. The notice also must explain the purposes that such data will be used by the business. As businesses work through the process of rolling out new technologies, therefore, they’ll need to consider the scope of data collection, even if they are not interested in the data capable of being collected. If a business determines location data is not needed, the NSA guidance can be helpful as it provides mitigation tips to help limit the collection of same:

  • Disable location service settings on the device.
  • Disable radios when they are not actively in use: disable Bluetooth and turn off Wi-Fi if these capabilities are not needed.
  • Use Airplane Mode when the device is not in use.
  • Apps should be given as few permissions as possible (e.g. set privacy settings to ensure apps are not using or sharing location data).
  • Turn off settings (typically known as FindMy or Find My Device settings) that allow a lost, stolen, or misplaced device to be tracked.
  • Set browser privacy/permission location settings to not allow location data usage.
  • Use an anonymizing Virtual Private Network (VPN) to help obscure location.
  • Minimize the amount of data with location information that is stored in the cloud, if possible.

Of course, there are situations where the business will want to have location data collected, such on company-provided devices with Find My Device capabilities that allow lost, stolen, or misplaced devices to be located.

As many who have gone through compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union, the CCPA and other laws that may come after it in the U.S. will require businesses to think more carefully about the personal information they collect, including location data. The NSA guidance is a helpful step in thinking about steps the business can take to apply best practices to its collection of location data.



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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.