Privacy Protection Strengthened in California

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On Tuesday 30th September, California Governor Edmund Brown introduced new legislation to improve the level of privacy protection for California residents. The new set of bills introduced a number of changes to the legislation which included clearer posting of privacy policies on government department websites, together with a requirement for private companies to offer victims of a data security breach services to prevent identity theft and financial loss as a result of the PHI exposure.

According to the new legislation, “If the person or business providing the notification was the source of the breach, an offer to provide appropriate identity theft prevention and mitigation services, if any, shall be provided at no cost to the affected person for not less than 12 months, along with all information necessary to take advantage of the offer to any person whose information was or may have been breached if the breach exposed or may have exposed personal information”

The new legislation also clarifies the procedures organizations must follow when issuing breach notifications, the form the notifications should take and to whom they must be sent, including the information that must be included in the notification. The new legislation applies only to security breaches involving unencrypted data being viewed by unauthorized individuals.

There are numerous exemptions to the bill: The new legislation does not apply to health care service plans, health care providers or contractors regulated by the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act nor entities subject to the medical privacy and security rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Availability Act (HIPAA).

Organizations with a data collection agreement pursuant to the Vehicle Code, financial institutions governed by The California Financial Information Privacy Act and businesses regulated by state or federal law that are currently employing a higher level of protection than is stipulated in the new legislation are not covered by the new bill.

The new legislation has been introduced to reduce data breaches involving unencrypted data, and while not explicitly stated, the message to organizations is clear; data security is a serious issue. Companies should be taking proactive steps to protect privacy and preserve confidentiality of consumer and patient data. Strong data encryption for transit and storage is a best practice that will assure compliance and avoid penalties.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.

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