After nine months of intense negotiations and uncertainty, and despite ongoing criticisms from powerful data protection regulators, the new EU-U.S. Privacy Shield program went into effect this week as the U.S. Department of Commerce began accepting applications online. Some companies that are self-certifying their compliance have already submitted their documentation and many more are expected to do so in the coming days and weeks as they seek shelter under the replacement for the long-standing EU-U.S. Safe Harbor arrangement that was invalidated by the European Court of Justice last year.

Companies can now “sign up” for the Privacy Shield list, but they should not expect a rubber stamp from the Commerce Department just because they have self-certified. To ensure that their applications are approved, companies should take the following steps:

  • Confirm that they are eligible to participate—not all organizations are. Only companies subject to the jurisdiction of the FTC or the DOT may participate at this time
  • Develop a Privacy Shield-compliant privacy policy statement
  • Identify their independent recourse mechanism—under the new framework, self-certifying organizations must provide an independent recourse mechanism available to investigate unresolved complaints at no cost to the individual
  • Ensure that they have compliance verification mechanisms in place
  • Designate contacts within their organizations to serve as liaisons regarding the Privacy Shield
  • Review the information required to self-certify
  • Go online to www.privacyshield.gov to self-certify


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It’s been awhile since last we published for our firm blog Media & Privacy Risk Report, and one thing is largely to blame: ransomware attacks on our clients have been keeping us very busy. We’ve learned many lessons from these attacks that we plan to share over the coming months with our readers. But the focus of this post is recent guidance from the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services (OCR) indicating that any ransomware attack involving protected health information PHI) could be a data breach with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) reporting obligations.

Often in ransomware matters, a hacker encrypts data and demands that a ransom be paid (usually in Bitcoin) before the hacker will decrypt the data and make it once again accessible to the data owner (or covered entity) or maintainer (or business associate). But just because a hacker has frozen your data, does that mean that the hacker has accessed, acquired or exfiltrated your data? Isn’t it possible that a hacker could freeze your data without accessing, acquiring or exfiltrating it? By analogy, couldn’t someone render the locks on your house unusable (and thus your house inaccessible to you without a forced break-in) without actually accessing your house, acquiring anything within your house, or taking anything out of your house? It would seem that the answer would be yes. But if the OCR is asked that question, the presumption is that the answer is no, at least in the realm of ransomware attacks.
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As published in State Bar of Michigan Health Care Law Section

“In recent years, the likelihood of suffering a data breach has risen significantly for American companies across numerous industries. Health care providers, in particular, have been targeted due to the value of the sensitive information they hold regarding their patients and employees, including birth

On April 5, 2016, the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released an Enforcement Plan and Guidance (the “Plan”) regarding the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). The Plan contains three components designed to enhance the DOJ’s ability to detect and prosecute violations of the FCPA:  (1) a substantial increase in law enforcement resources; (2) increased coordination with foreign jurisdictions; and (3) implementation of a pilot program (the “Pilot Program”) offering substantial cooperation credit to companies that meet certain specified standards for “(1) voluntary self-disclosure of criminality, (2) full cooperation, and (3) remediation.”

One of the enumerated requirements for companies to achieve “full cooperation” (and thus earn maximum cooperation credit) under the Pilot Program is that companies must effectuate “[d]islcosure of overseas documents, the location in which such documents were found, and who found the documents.” This requirement comes with an exception for situations in which “such disclosure is impossible due to foreign law, including but not limited to foreign data privacy laws.”  The requirement and exception are followed by a note stating that:

Where a company claims that disclosure is prohibited, the burden is on the company to establish the prohibition. Moreover, a company should work diligently to identify all available legal bases to provide such documents.

Thus, companies seeking to avail themselves of the cooperation credit offered under the Pilot Program may find themselves trying to strike a delicate balance between compliance with foreign data privacy laws, such as those in the European Union that restrict the transfer of personal data, and compliance with the DOJ’s “full cooperation” requirement.
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Audit. A simple enough word, which basically means “to count.” Yet few words can evoke fear as much as this one word. No one asks their love “How do I love thee? Let me audit the ways,” nor do we tell our children to “Audit your blessings.” And while audits are not inherently unreasonable, their use should be reasonable and relevant. And due to the negative connotation of the word, many IT vendors are even couching their audit notices in “kinder” terms, characterizing the reviews as customer-benefitting and the like. But just as Shakespeare noted about misnamed flowers, an audit by any other name doesn’t change anything, and still holds risk.

Software audits are on the rise, and with most users reporting some under-licensing situations (and the requisite payment of additional license and support fees), this upward trend will only continue as more IT providers focus on this “low hanging fruit” revenue source. An increasing number of IT solutions providers are asking (or sometimes just telling) their customers to submit to an audit, albeit many times called by a different name, and taking increasingly aggressive approaches. The IT industry and the industries of its customers are taking notice, as in many cases, what is portrayed as a simple review will end up with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of exposure in the form of license and maintenance fees.
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Last week, the European Commission unveiled the latest documentation related to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield intended to restore trust in transatlantic data transfer and establish a mechanism for U.S. companies to once again transfer data from the EU with confidence. We wrote last month about the initial announcement of the Privacy Shield but expressed caution

In a February 19th speech at the annual SEC Speaks conference, Stephanie Avakian, Deputy Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, explained what the SEC expects of entities that experience a cyber intrusion and how the SEC decides whether to investigate such entities.

With respect to responding to cyber intrusion, the SEC’s stated expectations are high level and axiomatic. Entities are expected to (1) assess the situation, (2) address the problem and (3) minimize the damage. Ms. Avakian emphasized the importance of quickly involving authorities such as the FBI or Department of Homeland Security.

Ms. Avakian also expressed awareness of the practical impediments to self-reporting cyber intrusions to the SEC. Specifically, entities may be hesitant to do so for fear of triggering an investigation and enforcement action regarding their policies/procedures and implementation thereof. To assuage this concern, Ms. Avakian noted that the SEC’s goals in the cybersecurity area are to prevent hacking, protect customer data and ensure the smooth operation of America’s financial system. In other words, the SEC—at least from a priority standpoint—is on the same side as the entities that may fall prey to a cyber intrusion. In the case of registrants, when investigating cyber intrusions the SEC will focus on whether a registrant had policies and procedures reasonably designed to protect customer data and related remediation action plans. In the case of public companies, the SEC is not looking to second-guess good-faith decisions regarding data privacy, and would likely not bring an enforcement action against a cyber intrusion victim absent a “significant” disclosure issue. Ms. Avakian also pointed out that entities who self-disclose cyber intrusions will be rewarded with cooperation credit.  
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As originally published on February 5, 2016 in Law360.

Let’s say you’re the general counsel for a manufacturing company that builds armored transport vehicles for sale to the U.S. military. One of your vehicles recently exploded in use, injuring several military personnel. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the cause of the explosion and believes that your company skipped over certain required steps in product safety testing as part of an effort to meet contractual sales deadlines, and that members of the company’s senior management team may be criminally responsible because they knew about the corner-cutting and condoned it.

You must develop a plan to investigate the potential causes for the explosion, including a thorough review of the company’s product safety testing procedures. Should you task your internal risk management team with learning all the facts? Should you hire outside counsel to conduct the investigation? What information developed in the investigation will you recommend disclosing to the DOJ? What if critical information discovered in the investigation is protected by the attorney-client privilege? Will you recommend withholding the information or waiving the privilege as part of your cooperation with the government?
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Politicians in both the European Union and United States touted Tuesday’s agreement on a new “Privacy Shield” for EU-U.S. data transfers as a resolution to the data transfer quagmire that has faced companies since the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor was invalidated in October. While this new deal is a promising step in the right direction for companies that transfer data from the EU to the United States, there are still many questions about exactly what the requirements of the new Privacy Shield will be, how an American company can ensure compliance with those requirements and (perhaps most importantly) whether the European Court of Justice will validate the new rules.

Indeed, the deal heralded by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic appears to be only a high-level agreement—they expect to document the actual terms over the next few weeks (the Article 29 Working Party (WP29), the body made up of representatives of individual European Member States’ data protection authorities, has called for it to be fully documented by the end of February). Thus, we anticipate quite a bit more negotiation on the precise scope and language of the requirements. Meanwhile, WP29, which had been assessing data transfer mechanisms like standard contractual clauses and model contracts for possible flaws that would lead to enforcement actions, announced that it will not take enforcement actions based on its concerns about these mechanisms while it awaits the details of the new transfer deal.
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In a well-reasoned and encouraging decision to Internet businesses, the Northern District of Illinois recently found that even operating one of the largest, most popular websites in the world is not enough to create personal jurisdiction everywhere the site can be accessed. See Gullen v. Facebook, Inc., Case No. 15-cv-07681 (Jan. 21, 2016