Kansas Judge Rules that Class Action over CareCentrix Data Breach may Proceed

On December 19, 2016, in Hapka v. Carecentrix, the United States District Court for the District of Kansas denied CareCentrix, Inc.’s (CareCentrix) motion to dismiss a class action suit arising from a data breach affecting CareCentrix’s personal and tax information regarding thousands of employees.  The Court found that plaintiff Sarah Hapka, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, met the Article III standing requirements and sufficiently alleged a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Hapka claimed that in February 2016, an unauthorized person posed as one of CareCentrix’s employees and emailed a request for current and former employees’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Wage and Tax Statements (W-2 Forms). One of CareCentrix’s employees complied with the request, providing the W-2 Forms which included employees’ names, addresses, birth dates, wages, and Social Security Numbers.  Hapka alleged that shortly after this data breach, she received a letter from the IRS indicating that someone filed a fraudulent tax return in her name.  She later brought the underlying putative class action claiming that CareCentrix negligently permitted the data breach and that she and the class of plaintiffs will suffer imminent and certain impending injury of fraud and identity theft.

CareCentrix conceded that Hapka suffered some form of actual, concrete injury due to the filing of a false tax return. However, it argued that the other allegations of injury—the impending costs of countering the current tax fraud and heightened risk for future identify theft—are too speculative to meet the Article III standing bar set by the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which required plaintiffs to show an invasion of a legally protected interest and allege a concrete injury.  The Court rejected CareCentrix’s attempt to look at the plaintiff’s alleged injuries in a vacuum, stating that “[t]he fact that her stolen information has been used once has a direct impact on the plausibility of future harm.” Although the Court acknowledged that federal courts have disagreed about whether an alleged increased risk of identity theft is a sufficient injury to meet standing requirements, it followed the line of cases finding standing because the plaintiffs suffered from identity theft after a data breach.  Ultimately, the Court held that the plaintiffs met standing requirements.

The Court further rejected CareCentrix’s claim that Hapka failed to adequately plead the negligence claim because it did not have a statutory duty of care regarding employee information, and that plaintiff failed to allege any common-law duty. The Court found that identification of a statutory duty was unnecessary, and that the allegations that the harm was foreseeable established a common-law duty to exercise reasonable care.

This case further highlights how the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo earlier this year has produced varied results in breach litigation.  The Kansas Court acknowledged the split among federal courts on standing requirements, but effectively avoided ruling on the issue since Hapka actually suffered injury due to the filing of a false tax return.  If the plaintiffs did not have this example demonstrating that a concrete injury had in fact occurred, it is questionable whether the Kansas Court would have decided to deny CareCentrix’s dismissal motion on standing grounds.


Continue Reading December 2016 Monthly Update

Privacy law meets antitrust – EU Commissioner Vestager on data in competition law; ECJ to rule on admissibility of Privacy class actions; Northern District of California Sends Yelp Privacy Suit to the Jury; EU Advocate General finds EU-Canadian PNR pact unlawful; New York Unveils New Cyber Security Rules for Financial Services Organizations; New Jersey Senate Passes Shopping Privacy Bill; NIST Issues Mobile Threat Guidance

Privacy law meets antitrust – EU Commissioner Vestager on when privacy issues can lead to antitrust concerns

European Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager has commented on the relevance of privacy issues with regard to EU antitrust rules. According to Vestager, current investigations of the German Federal Cartel Office regarding Facebook’s “privacy issues” would “not necessarily” lead to competition law concerns, even though both fields of law might correlate under certain circumstances.

In the investigations at issue, the German Federal Cartel Office is alleging Facebook of abusing an alleged ‘dominant position’ in the market for social networks by imposing unfair conditions regarding the privacy settings for Facebook accounts on its users. The German antitrust regulator is arguing that users would have “no choice” whether to accept the conditions or to terminate their account, because there is no real alternative to the well-known social network. Under Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’), “dominant companies are subject to special obligations. These include the use of adequate terms of service as far as these are relevant to the market.”

It still remains to be seen whether Facebook will ultimately be found in breach of EU antitrust rules relating to its Privacy Policy. On a more general matter, however, the Commissioner’s statements seem to confirm that indeed, companies controlling vast amounts of data may be considered able to prevent market entry by withholding this data from potential competitors who could not reproduce comparable datasets themselves and therefore might violate Article 102 TFEU. Companies that might fall in this category should therefore be prepared that not only privacy regulators, but also antitrust authorities might potentially be questioning them regarding their use of data in the future. Nevertheless, “simply holding a lot of data” would not be enough to raise antitrust suspicions, Vestager appeased.


Continue Reading Privacy & Cybersecurity Weekly News Update

Earlier this month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce submitted comments in response to the National Institute of Standards & Technology’s request for information regarding cybersecurity and the digital economy. The Chamber’s comments focused on specifics such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015, but it also discussed more

“Pokémon Go” Developer feels the heat over data collection; 2nd Circuit Ruling limits government’s access to data stored overseas; 9th Circuit CFAA Ruling increases Facebook’s control over its Users’ Data; Dutch Study reveals tension between EU Trade Deals and Data Protection

“Pokémon Go” Developer in Hot Water over Extensive Data Collection Practices

In early July, mobile game developer Niantic released “Pokémon Go,” a free-to-download “augmented reality” game for Android and iOS devices. In less than a week, the game had been downloaded by more than 15 million unique users, making the game’s launch one of the most widely-adopted in history. Privacy advocates soon raised serious questions about the game and its accompanying privacy policy, which until July 12 granted full access to users’ Google account data unless users opted-out of such permissions—prompting Niantic to issue its first update resolving the permissions issue.

On July 12, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) sent a letter to Niantic CEO John Hanke demanding the company explain in detail the types of data Niantic collects from players, why that data “in necessary for the provision or improvement of services,” and how the company plans to use the data gathered. Franken’s letter also questioned the company’s opt-out data collection practices, suggesting that “Niantic consider making this collection/access opt-in.”  Franken, who serves as the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, has in the past spoken out against similar practices by other mobile app developers, including Uber and Lyft. Mr. Hanke has until August 12 to respond to Sen. Franken’s questions.


Continue Reading Privacy & Cybersecurity Weekly News Update- Week of July 9

The Second Circuit today issued a much-anticipated ruling holding that U.S. firms are not required to turn over user data stored overseas, even in the face of a government warrant.  This decision arose from Microsoft’s December 2014 appeal of a civil contempt ruling against the tech giant for refusing to turn over the personal data

Article 31 Committee approves Privacy Shield; House Cuts FCC Funding Over Attempted Broadband Privacy Regulations; No Charges for Clinton in Data Security Probe; European Commission launches public-privacy partnership on cybersecurity; European Parliament adopts NIS Directive; Privacy Code of Conduct for mHealth app providers finalized; French parliament about to make French Privacy act more severe; Russia introduces new data retention obligations.

Article 31 Committee approves Privacy Shield

On July 8, 2016, the Article 31 Committee has finally given its support for the adoption of the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield”, the new framework for cross-Atlantic data transfers.

For more details, please see our latest client alert here.

House Defunds FCC’s Data Privacy Efforts for Broadband Providers

On July 7, the House of Representatives voted to cut off funding for the FCC’s proposed privacy regulations of broadband service providers. The measure, attached as an amendment to the 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, cut the FCC’s funding by more than 17%. Calling the FCC’s proposed rules “extreme,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the amendment’s author, claimed the measure was necessary to reassert the Federal Trade Commission’s status as the go-to federal data privacy regulator. The FCC, Rep. Blackburn asserted, “simply doesn’t have the requisite technical expertise to regulate privacy.”

The proposed regulations, which the FCC announced in March 2016, would require ISPs to disclose how data regarding customers’ online activities could be collected and recorded. These proposed rules represented the FCC’s first major attempt to regulate broadband providers in the aftermath of the agency’s February 2015 decision to treat broadband as a public utility. Several broadband providers had expressed public reservations about the FCC’s proposed rulemaking and actively lobbied legislators to act. The bill, which passed in a 239-185 vote, next heads to the Senate for consideration.


Continue Reading Privacy & Cybersecurity Weekly News Update- Week of July 3

Adoption of Privacy Shield expected in early July; Federal Court limits VPPA liability; Belgian Court overturns Facebook fine; FTC robocall crackdown; A rare HIPAA criminal conviction; UK’s ICO fines Brexit campaigners for mass text messages; House report calls for national encryption commission.

European Commission expects adoption of Privacy Shield for beginning of July

European officials are hoping to finally formalize the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield”, the cross-Atlantic data transfer pact aiming at replacing the formerly invalidated “U.S.-EU Safe Harbor” Framework, on July 5. The initial draft agreement has been amended to include new explanations of U.S. governmental entities and further limitations on the bulk collection of data and mass surveillance. The European Commission is now confident that also the Article 31 Committee will give its approval to the draft framework.

Many European Privacy regulators and EU bodies, such as the European Parliament and the European Data Protection Supervisor, had argued that the initial draft did not sufficiently protect the fundamental rights of European data subjects. The revised version now “only” allows bulk collection “exceptionally”, where targeted collection is “not feasible”, although it remains open how ‘feasibility’ should be determined.


Continue Reading Privacy & Cybersecurity Weekly News Update- Week of June 26

EU-U.S. Agreement on Law Enforcement Data; European Data Protection Supervisor Criticizes Privacy Shield; House Members Criticize FCC Privacy Proposal; NHTSA Targets Automotive Cybersecurity; Yahoo Releases National Security Letters; CareFirst Data Breach Lawsuit Dismissed; FDA Guidance on Data Protection in Investigations

EU and U.S. sign Umbrella Agreement on Law Enforcement Data

On June 2, 2016, Vera Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice and Consumer Protection, Dutch minister Ard van der Steur and U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the “Umbrella Agreement”, a deal between the U.S. and the EU “on the protection of personal information relating to the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offenses”. The agreement aims at enhancing the cooperation of the EU and the U.S. in criminal enforcement (including terrorism), while at the same time protecting personal data of European citizens, when transferred from the EU to the U.S. for criminal investigations.

The text of the agreement, which was negotiated over a long period due in part to a Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ) finding that European citizens lacked adequate rights of redress, includes provisions on purpose limitation, information security, data retention, rights of data subjects, breach notifications and onward transfers. A “fact sheet”-FAQ is available on the Commission’s website. Before the agreement can be finally concluded, the European Parliament will still need to give its consent.

European Data Protection Supervisor criticizes “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield”

On May 30, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Giovanni Buttarelli, issued an opinion on the draft “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield (“Privacy Shield”), which is in line with the criticism previously raised by the Article 29 Working Party and the European Parliament.


Continue Reading Privacy & Cybersecurity Weekly News Update- Week of May 30, 2016

Data Breach Liability Requires Actual Misuse; More U.S.-EU Data Transfer Uncertainty; Airline App Exempt from State Privacy Law; Pending Cyber Bill Would Create Consortium; Encryption-Related Deceptive Advertising Settlement; PayPal Fined for Deceptive Trade Practices

The Spokeo effect: data breach claims require actual examples of information misuse

Last week, a federal court dismissed claims alleging harm from a hospital data breach, on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to allege more than the mere threat of injury.  In Khan v. Children’s National Health System, No. 8:15-cv-2125 (D. Md.), the plaintiff alleged that phishing attacks compromised hospital employees’ email accounts containing patient information, including social security numbers, addresses, dates of birth, and other private healthcare information.  The court held that the plaintiff lacked standing and could not proceed in federal court because the plaintiff failed to allege either specific instances of misuse from the particular breach at issue or “a clear indication that the data breach was for the purpose of using the plaintiffs’ personal data to engage in identity fraud.”

The court’s reasoning also demonstrates the favorable impact that this month’s Supreme Court decision in Spokeo v. Robbins may have for defendants in data breach actions.  The Khan opinion explained that mere violation of a statute does not necessarily create the “concrete harm,” such as actual misuse of information, required by Spokeo.  Although it remains to be seen what the Ninth Circuit does with Spokeo on remand and how Spokeo will impact future cases, it seems likely that federal courts will continue to be inclined to disfavor claims where the harm alleged is the “diminished value” of personal information, a general loss of privacy, or simply a technical statutory violation.


Continue Reading Privacy & Cybersecurity Weekly News Update- Week of May 23, 2016

The Panama Papers Leak – An overview on histories’ biggest data leak; Article 29 Working Party about to release opinion on EU-U.S. Privacy Shield; EU: GDPR and PCJ DPD about to be approved next week – final consolidated text published by Council; US: New HIPAA Audit Protocol Released as a Guidance Tool for phase two of Compliance Audits; U.S. Sneak News: Defend Trade Secrets Act, NPRM and Sony Settlement Approval. EU: GDPR, PCJ DPD and PNR Directive adoped by Parliament; U.S.: House Judiciary Committee approves E-Mail Privacy Act; Senate to require airlines to report cyberattacks; FTC issues online tool identifying applicable law for health apps; Global: Turkey releases first comprehensive Data Protection law; Connected cars found vulnerable for cyberattacks; Data Breaches May Waive Attorney-Client Privilege?; Encryption Continues to Dominate Privacy Headlines; Hospital Settles with HHS for $ 2.2 Million in HIPAA Action; Southern District of New York Adds Ransomware Conspirator to Hacking Case; European and Canadian Data Protection Authorities Investigate IoT Devices; Norway Requires Data Breach Notification for Individuals

The Panama Papers Leak – An overview on histories’ biggest data leak

On April 3, 2016, reports revealed that a set of 11.5 million confidential documents (“the Panama Papers”), providing detailed information about more than 200,000 offshore companies connected to Panamanian legal service provider Mossack Fonseca, had been made available to German Daily Newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source in 2015.

The documents, which form part of the biggest data leak in history, reveal aspects on (potential) exploitations of offshore tax regimes and other illegal purposes, such as fraud or drug trafficking. Among the people concerned are not only big companies, but also twelve national leaders among 143 politicians, celebrities, government officials or other law firms. The Süddeutsche Zeitung, given the scope of the leak, involved the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and about 400 other journalists in 76 different countries to investigate and analyze the documents. ICIJ has promised to publish a full list of companies involved in early May 2016.

Mossack Fonseca, the leaked firm, defended its commercial conduct, stating that itself would always comply with applicable laws and carry out thorough due diligence on its clients. However, the leak will have a huge impact on the offshore business, as the biggest selling point of this business, secrecy, has been massively cracked.


Continue Reading Privacy & Cybersecurity News Update- 3 Week Summary