In a recent post, we highlighted the need for a privacy and cybersecurity training program, one not solely focused on spotting phishing attempts (although that is quite important as well). A primary reason, quite simply, is that employees continue to be a leading cause of data breaches. This fact was reaffirmed for the Wyoming Department of Health (WDOH) when an employee mistake resulted in the disclosure of nearly 165,000 Wyomingites. And, the risk is only amplified in the current remote work environment.

The WDOH announced on April 27, 2021, that it had inadvertently exposed 53 files containing COVID-19 and Influenza test data and 1 file containing breath alcohol test results. Some of the files had been exposed as early as November 5, 2020, but WDOH did not discover the incident until March 10, 2021. According to WDOH, the files included name or patient ID, address, date of birth, test result(s), and date(s) of service, but did not contain social security numbers, banking, financial, or health insurance information.

The breach resulted from an “inadvertent exposure” of the files by a WDOH workforce employee who mistakenly and impermissibly uploaded the files to private and public GitHub.com repositories, resulting in disclosure to unauthorized individuals. Notably, WDOH intended GitHub.com, internet-based software development company, be used by its employees only for software code storage and maintenance.

It is not clear why the WDOH employee uploaded 54 files containing patient test result data, including COVID-19 test results, to a service intended for storage of coding data. And, we do not know whether the employee in this case received training on the purpose and use of GitHub.com. However, according to WDOH’s announcement, the files were promptly removed from GitHub.com, the employee was sanctioned, and WDOH retrained its workforce on data privacy and security best practices.

Certainly, mistakes processing personal information are going to happen and no amount of training will prevent all data incidents and breaches. There is no silver bullet. An important question for an organization to ask, however, is whether reasonable steps are being taken to minimize the risk to data, even with regard to inadvertent errors in handling and with regard to use of company systems, among other things.

Training can be one of a number of tools organizations use to create a culture of privacy and security. Increased awareness can help to minimize, even if not eliminate, inadvertent errors. The white paper we provided in our earlier post outlines several considerations for developing a robust program designed to continually remind employee of the vigilance needed to protect personal information from unauthorized access, acquisition, modification, and disclosure. It is and will continue to be an ongoing challenge, particularly in the current environment with workplaces shifting as we emerge from the harshest effects of the pandemic.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, 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, Mr. Lazzarotti 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 – Mr. Lazzarotti 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 – Mr. Lazzarotti’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.

Mr. Lazzarotti 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.

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