The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is not the only government arm that enforces data breaches. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has broad authority to regulate the security of consumer information and hold companies liable for a failure to use adequate data security practices. In August 2013, the FTC targeted LabMD, a medical testing laboratory, which maintains personal financial and health information for nearly one million consumers. The FTC alleged that LabMD failed to “provide reasonable and appropriate security for personal information on its computer networks,” which resulted in the data of thousands of consumers being leaked on to the peer-to-peer file-sharing network LimeWire, the black-market and in the hands of illegal data brokers.
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Until recently the FTC enforced its breach authority under the Act without pushback, so a company facing allegations would simply settle. However, LabMD became the second company to challenge the FTC’s enforcement of data breaches (a hotel chain company was the first to challenge the FTC’s authority). LabMD attempted to stop the investigation by filing appeals to federal district and appellate courts and the FTC. The appeals were based primarily on two arguments: (i) the FTC does not have the statutory authority to set data security standards for companies; and (ii) LabMD is already subject to the OCR’s enforcement authority under HIPAA’s security regulations, so it should not also be subject to the FTC’s enforcement authority.
Despite LabMD’s best efforts, two Eleventh Circuit judges refused to intervene before the FTC issued its final order, the FTC rejected LabMD’s motion to dismiss and it moved forward with the administrative proceedings. However, LabMD continues to fightback. Recently, LabMD filed a motion to dismiss with the FTC, and contended that the FTC had not proven that the data breach caused injury, specifically, that it did not present evidence that there was substantial harm or likely to be substantial harm to consumers as a result of the breach.
During trial, Michael Daugherty, CEO of LabMD, testified that the effect of the FTC’s allegations and subsequent probe has placed the company in a “very deep coma” and that he “can’t understate how damaging and confusing and sideswiping [the matter is] to the attitude, energy and morale of [LabMD’s] management staff.”
Interestingly, the trial has been on recess since May 30 when the administrative law judge delayed the proceeding until June 12 in response to an announcement that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was investigating Tiversa Inc., the cyber-intelligence firm that played a central role in the FTC’s case against LabMD. In a separate lawsuit, LabMD is alleging that Tiversa provided the FTC with patient information files that it stole from LabMD.
When trial resumes on June 12, the focus will continue to be on whether LabMD’s data security standards that it used to protect consumers’ personal information were reasonable. It will be interesting whether developments from the Tiversa investigation impact the outcome of the trial. For more information about this proceeding go to the FTC website.
Practice Tip: Ensure that your security policies and procedures are being implemented and followed in accordance with HIPAA security requirements because inadequate security safeguards may lead to enforcement actions by the OCR and the FTC.