One of the most significant tasks introduced in 2009 was presented by new guidelines under the Massachusetts Privacy Law, which requires a slew of changes to administrative and security processes. Compliance calls for a significant overhaul for many companies, and the deadline is just around the corner: March 1, 2010. The marketplace has demonstrated an urgent need for a new standard of information protection, so we do not expect a great deal of leniency for those that fall behind. Companies need to take the new law seriously, gear up, and put appropriate defenses in place around the personal information of their employees and customers.
This is without question a daunting call to action, however the need for the law remains unquestioned. In fact, a report published by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation [PDF] notes that since 2007, over 1 million Massachusetts residents have been impacted by security breaches. The report states that 495 incidents were criminal in nature, while 312 “generally demonstrated poor employee handling of residents’ personal information, including transporting sensitive data, either in disregard of company policies, or in an environment without sufficient policies in place to secure such information.”
A few additional findings from the report include:
- The OCABR received 807 notifications of security breaches
- Most breaches (76 percent) were electronic in nature
- It may have been expected that financial services breaches impacted the highest number of individuals (707,305), but it is perhaps a bit surprising to find that the second greatest impact was felt from incidents involving the education sector (130,161)
The law takes aim at improving defenses against the criminal element while shoring up process to reduce risk of negligent handling of data. And most importantly, it applies to — by the letter of the law — all persons that “own or license” personal information from a resident of the Commonwealth, specifically any individual or company that “Receives, stores, maintains, processes, or otherwise is permitted access to personal information through its provision of goods or services directly to a person that is subject to this regulation.”
That means pretty much everyone.
The most important step to compliance might be the WISP - a Written Information Security Program (WISP) that ensures the security and confidentiality of personal information in both physical and electronic format. The actual scope and complexity of a WISP will vary depending on an organization’s size and scope of business, availability of resources, nature and quantity of data stored, and the need for security and confidentiality of both consumer and employee information.
There is of course much more to understand before diving in. We encourage you to take a look at this 2009 Perspectives article for more detail, including specific action items and consequences for failing to comply.