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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • 6th Circuit: Merchant indemnified against card breach costs


    On June 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that an agreement between a Texas-based merchant and a payment processor did not require the merchant to pay millions of dollars in damage-control costs related to two card system data breaches. After the data breaches, the payment processor withheld routine payment card transaction proceeds from the merchant, asserting that the merchant was responsible for reimbursing the amount that the issuing banks paid to cardholders affected by the breaches. However, the merchant refused to pay the payment processor, relying on a “consequential damages waiver” contained in the agreement.

    The payment processor argued that, under the agreement’s indemnification clause and provision covering third-party fees and charges, the merchant retained liability for assessments passed down from the card brands’ acquiring bank. The district court, however, granted summary judgment to the merchant, finding that the merchant was not liable for the card brands’ assessments. The court further ruled that the payment processor materially breached the agreement when it diverted funds to reimburse itself.

    On review, the 6th Circuit agreed with the lower court that the assessments “constituted consequential damages” and that the agreement exempted consequential damages from liability under a “conspicuous limitation” to the indemnification clause. According to the 6th Circuit, the “data breaches, resulting reimbursement to cardholders, and levying of assessments, though natural results” of the merchant’s failure to comply with the Payment Card Industry's Data Security Standards, “did not necessarily follow from it.” In addition, the appellate court agreed with the district court’s holding that third-party fees and charges in the contract refer to routine charges associated with card processing services rather than liability for a data breach. The appellate court also concurred that the payment processor’s decision to withhold routine payment card transactions, constituted a material breach of the agreement.

    Courts Sixth Circuit Appellate Payment Processors Credit Cards Data Breach Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Indemnification

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  • Oregon enacts new vendor data breach notification requirements

    State Issues

    On May 24, the Oregon Governor signed SB 684, which amends the state’s data breach notification provisions related to third-party vendors. Among other provisions, the amendments require vendors that are contracted to maintain or access personal information on behalf of a covered entity to (i) notify the covered entity “as soon as is practicable but not later than 10 days” after discovering a security breach or believing a breach has occurred; and (ii) notify the state Attorney General if a security breach involves personal information of more than 250 consumers, or an undetermined amount of consumers, provided that the covered entity has not already done so. SB 684 also updates the definition of personal information to include usernames in combination with other authentication factors used to access a consumer’s account, and establishes that a covered entity or vendor may “affirmatively defend” against allegations it has not adequately safeguarded personal information by showing that it maintained reasonable security measures for protecting personal information in compliance with HIPAA or the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, as applicable. The amendments take effect January 1, 2020.

    State Issues State Legislation Data Breach Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Third-Party

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  • States enact data breach notification requirements

    State Issues

    On May 10, the New Jersey governor signed S 52, which amends the state’s data breach notification provisions. The amendments expand the definition of “personal information” to include “user name, email address, or any other account holder identifying information, in combination with any password or security question and answer that would permit access to an online account.” The amendment further permits breached entities to provide individuals, whose account access credentials have been compromised, with the opportunity to promptly change online account information, so long as the notification is not sent to an email account subject to the security breach. The amendments take effect on September 1.

    On May 7, the Washington governor signed HB 1071, which amends the state’s data breach notification law to, among other things, (i) narrow the window for post-breach notification to affected individuals and to the state Attorney General, if applicable, from 45 days to 30 days after discovery; (ii) require notifications to contain the date of the breach and the date of the discovery of the breach, if known; (iii) permit electronic notification to affected individuals, which must instruct them to promptly change passwords and security questions or answers, as applicable; and (iv) significantly expand the items included in the notice to the Attorney General, including a summary of steps taken to contain the breach. In addition, HB 1071 expands the definition of “personal information” to include, among other things, the full birth date; a private key unique to an individual that is used to authenticate or sign electronic records; student, military, or passport ID numbers; health insurance identification numbers; biometric data or medical history; and user names and email addresses combined with passwords or security questions. The amendments take effect March 1, 2020.

    State Issues State Legislation Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach State Attorney General

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  • Indiana sues credit reporting agency over 2017 data breach

    State Issues

    On May 6, the Indiana Attorney General announced a lawsuit filed against a national credit reporting agency in response to its 2017 data breach, alleging the company “chose increasing revenue over protecting the safety of consumers’ sensitive personal information.” According to the complaint, the state alleges the company violated the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act by failing to secure 3.9 million residents’ personal data while representing to consumers that its payment systems were compliant with Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards. The complaint alleges among other things that the company “knew the system was storing payment card information in clear text, which was a known violation of the [PCI standard]” and “[d]espite its knowledge, … made a conscious choice to break the rules.” Indiana is seeking civil penalties, consumer restitution, costs and injunctive relief.

    State Issues Credit Report Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach State Attorney General

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  • Maryland amends security breach notification requirements

    State Issues

    On April 30, the Maryland governor signed HB 1154 to amend current law related to security breach notification requirements. Among other provisions, HB 1154 (i) requires businesses that own, license, or maintain computerized data that includes a resident’s personal information to conduct a reasonable, prompt investigation in the event of a security breach to determine whether the personal information has been, or is at risk of, being misused due to the breach; (ii) requires business to provide notice to the affected individuals; (iii) stipulates that businesses may not charge fees when providing necessary information to an owner or licensee who is required to provide notice to affected individuals; and (iv) provides restrictions concerning the use of the computerized data relative to the security breach. The amendments take effect October 1.

    State Issues State Legislation Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach

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  • Websites settle FTC data security allegations

    Federal Issues

    On April 24, the FTC announced separate settlements with the operators of an online rewards website and a dress-up games website to resolve allegations concerning poorly implemented data security measures and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violations. According to the FTC, the online rewards website operator collected personal information (PII) from users who participated in their online offerings and made promises that their account information was secure. However, the operator allegedly failed to implement data security measures or utilize encryption techniques, which granted hackers access to the network. In addition, the operator allegedly maintained PII in clear unencrypted text. As a result of the breach, hackers published and offered for sale PII for approximately 2.7 million consumers. Under the terms of the decision and order, the operator is, among other things, prohibited from misrepresenting the measures taken to protect consumers’ PII and is required to implement a comprehensive information security program for future collections of PII.

    On the same day, the FTC reached a proposed settlement with a dress-up games website and its operators, who allegedly violated COPPA by failing to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13 or provide reasonable and appropriate security for the collected data. According to the FTC, data security failures allowed hackers access to the company’s network, which stored information for roughly 245,000 users under age 13. As part of the proposed settlement filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the company and operators, among other things, (i) have agreed to pay $35,000 in civil penalties; (ii) will change their business practices to comply with COPPA; and (iii) are prohibited from selling, sharing, or collecting personal information until a comprehensive data security program is implemented and undergoes independent biennial assessments.

    Federal Issues FTC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach COPPA Settlement

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  • Virginia requires breach of personal information notification

    State Issues

    On March 18, the Virginia governor signed HB 2396, which amends the Code of Virginia and requires an individual or entity owning or licensing computerized data that includes personal information to disclose all data breaches without “unreasonable delay” to the Virginia Attorney General and any affected Commonwealth residents. Under HB 2396, “personal information” is defined as “the first name or first initial and last name in combination with and linked to any one or more of the following data elements that relate to a resident of the Commonwealth, when the data elements are neither encrypted nor redacted.” The list of data elements was amended to add passport numbers and military identification numbers to the previous list, which included social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and financial account numbers or credit/debit card numbers combined with codes or passwords that would grant access to a consumer’s financial account. The amendment is effective July 1.

    State Issues State Legislation Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach State Attorney General

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  • Class settles data breach claims over compromised payment card data


    On February 26, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida granted final approval and class certification, following a final approval hearing, to a settlement resolving class action allegations concerning a data breach involving an international fast-food chain. According to the amended motion for final approval, the data breach occurred in 2016 and involved third-party malware installation on certain franchises’ point of sale systems, which targeted and compromised customer payment card related data. The class ultimately asserted the following claims—breach of implied contract, negligence, and violations of several state consumer laws—and requested reimbursement for (i) costs associated with time spent addressing identity theft or fraud; (ii) losses caused by restricted access to funds; (iii) costs associated with credit reports and credit monitoring; (iv) bank and payment card fees; (v) unauthorized charges; and (vi) documented time spent dealing with the repercussions of the data breach. Under the terms of the settlement, the fast-food chain will pay up to $5,000 per eligible class member as reimbursement for documented out-of-pocket expenses, and up to $15 an hour for up to two hours of undocumented time spent dealing with the repercussions of the data breach. The court also approved $1.02 million in attorneys’ fees and approximately $139,000 in costs to class counsel.

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach Class Action Settlement

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  • District Court: Approval of data breach settlement denied due to several deficiencies


    On January 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied preliminary approval of a proposed class action settlement after identifying several deficiencies with the deal. The proposed settlement was intended to resolve allegations concerning security failures by a global internet company, which led to three data breaches between 2013 and 2016 that exposed consumers’ personal information (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The proposed settlement would have required the internet company to (i) establish a $50 million settlement fund; (ii) pay additional attorneys’ fees of up to $35 million; (iii) pay costs and expenses of up to $2.5 million, as well as service awards of up to $7,500 for each class representative; (iv) provide customers with two years of credit monitoring and identity theft protection services; and (v) improve its data security. However, the court stated that the proposed settlement agreement, among other things, inadequately disclosed the sizes of the settlement fund and class, as well as the scope of non-monetary relief, and “appears likely to result in an improper reverter of attorneys’ fees.” Moreover, the court held that the proposed agreement provided insufficient detail about how much the settlement would cost the defendant in total, and did not disclose the costs of credit monitoring or how much the defendant would budget for data security, thus preventing class members from assessing the reasonableness of the settlement or the attorneys’ fee request—which the court indicated seem “unreasonably high.” The court also noted that “[t]he parties’ lack of disclosure also inhibits the court's ability to assess the reasonableness of the settlement.”

    Courts Class Action Settlement Data Breach

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  • Massachusetts amends legislation protecting consumers from security breaches

    State Issues

    On January 10, the Massachusetts Governor signed HB 4806, following the House and Senate’s adoption of amendments to the bill. The bill, which is effective April 10, amends current law related to security breaches and the protection of consumer financial and credit information. Among other provisions, the amendments to the current law:

    • Prohibit users from requesting or obtaining the consumer credit report of a consumer unless the user obtains the consumer’s prior written, verbal, or electronic consent, and discloses the user's reason for accessing the consumer report to the consumer prior to obtaining consent.
    • Require every consumer reporting agency to disclose to consumers, when properly identified, (i) the nature, contents, and substance of all information on file (except medical information) at the time of the request; (ii) the sources of all credit information; and (iii) “the recipients of any consumer report on the consumer which it has furnished for employment purposes within the 2-year period preceding the request, and for any other purpose within the 6-month period preceding the request.”
    • State that a consumer reporting agency may not charge a fee to any consumer for placing, lifting, or removing a security freeze from a consumer report.
    • Specify that a consumer reporting agency may not “knowingly offer a paid product to prevent unauthorized access or restrict access to a consumer's credit.”
    • Require persons who experience a security breach to report specific information to the state Attorney General, as well as certify that their credit monitoring services are in compliance.
    • State that consumers shall receive notice provisions in the event of a breach of security, including the right to obtain police reports, steps for requesting a security freeze, and various mitigation services.
    • Require persons who experience a breach that compromises social security numbers to provide at least 18 months of free credit monitoring for affected individuals.

    State Issues State Legislation Credit Reporting Agency Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Security Freeze Data Breach

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