Reacting to a report that identity theft was a top concern for Illinois residents (second in a list of ten), Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a legislative proposal to strengthen the state’s existing data breach notification law. The call for stronger breach notification laws is a trend that has emerged in other states, such as New York and Indiana, and one that has had results. Florida and California are good examples. As summarized below, AG Madigan’s proposal follows a similar pattern – add provisions that require notification to the state Attorney General, expand the definition of personal information that would trigger a notification requirement, and require reasonable safeguards to protect personal information before a breach happens. It is this last point to which companies should pay particular attention. In a state Attorney General investigation following a breach, it will be those safeguards that are examined.

Attorney General Madigan has been active in the area of identity theft, maintaining an Identity Theft Unit and Hotline that provides one-on-one assistance to victims of identity theft and data breaches. She also has testified before the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives in recent years concerning data breaches, including her testimony last month in connection with federal data breach law being debated. She is now proposing significant changes to the law originally passed in 2005, Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). The changes include:

  • Expanding the types of personal information that could trigger a notification requirement to include medical information, biometric data, geolocation information, sensitive consumer marketing data, contact information when combined with identifying information, and login credentials for online accounts;
  • Requiring that the Attorney General’s office be notified in the event of a breach; and
  • Mandating that businesses take “reasonable” steps to protect the personal information covered by the law

The substantial changes made to the Florida breach notification law last year also added a requirement for businesses to adopt and implement reasonable safeguards to protect personal information. Similar requirements exist in states such as Connecticut, California, Maryland, and Oregon. The most popular and most stringent of these state laws is the one in Massachusetts. Becoming effective almost 5 years ago to the day, March 1, 2010, the Massachusetts data security regulations flesh out one approach to providing reasonable safeguards. (Checklist available here).

Planning for a data breach is critical, but that should be part of an overall plan to safeguard personal information. If the trend of enhancements to data breach notification and safeguarding laws continues, it will not be long before most states have a statutory obligation to safeguard personal information through a set of written policies and procedures, just as 47 states today mandate notification in the event of a breach.