DLA Piper Intelligence

Data Protection
Laws of the World

Law

United States
United States

The United States has about 20 sector specific or medium-specific national privacy or data security laws, and hundreds of such laws among its 50 states and its territories. (California alone has more than 25 state privacy and data security laws). These laws, which address particular issues or industries, are too diverse to summarize fully in this volume.

In addition, the large range of companies regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (‘FTC’) are subject to enforcement if they engage in materially unfair or deceptive trade practices. The FTC has used this authority to pursue companies that fail to implement reasonable minimal data security measures, fail to live up to promises in privacy policies, or frustrate consumer choices about processing or disclosure of personal data.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Law
United States

The United States has about 20 sector specific or medium-specific national privacy or data security laws, and hundreds of such laws among its 50 states and its territories. (California alone has more than 25 state privacy and data security laws). These laws, which address particular issues or industries, are too diverse to summarize fully in this volume.

In addition, the large range of companies regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (‘FTC’) are subject to enforcement if they engage in materially unfair or deceptive trade practices. The FTC has used this authority to pursue companies that fail to implement reasonable minimal data security measures, fail to live up to promises in privacy policies, or frustrate consumer choices about processing or disclosure of personal data.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Definitions

Definition of personal data

Varies widely by regulation.  The FTC now considers information  that can reasonably be used to contact or distinguish a person, including IP addresses and device identifiers, as personal data.  However, very few U.S. federal or state privacy laws define “personal information” as including information that on its own does not actually identify a person.

Definition of sensitive personal data

Varies widely by sector and by type of statute. Generally personal health data, financial data, credit worthiness data, student data, personal information collected online from children under 13, and information that can be used to carry out identity theft or fraud are considered sensitive. For example, US state data security breach notice and state data security laws typically cover name plus government identification number, financial account or payment card number, and in some states health insurance medical and/or biometric data, and user name and password for an online account.  

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Authority

No official national authority. However, the FTC has jurisdiction over most commercial entities and has authority to issue and enforce privacy regulations in specific areas (eg for telemarketing, commercial email, and children's privacy). The FTC uses its general authority to prevent unfair and deceptive trade practices to bring enforcement actions against inadequate data security measures, and inadequately disclosed information collection, use and disclosure practices. State attorneys general typically have similar authority and bring some enforcement actions, particularly in the case of high profile data security breaches.

In addition, a wide range of sector regulators, particularly those in the health care, financial services, communications, and insurance sectors, have authority to issue and enforce privacy regulations.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Registration

There is no requirement to register databases.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Data Protection Officers

With the exception of entities regulated by HIPAA, there is no requirement to appoint a data protection officer, although appointment of a chief privacy officer and an IT security officer is a best practice among larger organisations and increasingly among mid sized ones. In addition, Massachusetts law requires an organization to appoint one or more employees to maintain its information security program. The law applies to organizations that own or license personal data on residents of Massachusetts, and thus reaches outside the state.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Collection & Processing

US privacy laws and self regulatory principles vary widely, but generally require pre collection notice and an opt out for use and disclosure of regulated personal information.

Opt‑in rules apply in special cases involving information that is considered sensitive under US law, such as for health information, use of credit reports, student data, personal information collected online from children under 13 (see below for the scope of this requirement), video viewing choices, precise geolocation data, and telecommunication usage information. The FTC interprets as a "deceptive trade practice" failing to obtain opt in consent if a company engages in materially different uses or discloses personal information not disclosed in the privacy policy under which personal information was collected. It has, for example, sued to prevent disclosure of personal data as aprt of serveral bankruptcy proceedings.

States impose a wide range of specific requirements, particularly in the employee privacy area. For example, a significant number of states have enacted employee social media privacy laws, and, in 2014 and 2015, a disparate array of education privacy laws.

The US also regulates marketing communications extensively, including telemarketing, text message marketing, fax marketing and email marketing (which is discussed below). The first three types of marketing are frequent targets of class action lawsuits for significant statutory damages.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Transfer

No geographic transfer restrictions apply in the US, except with regard to storing some government information. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution likely bars US states from imposing data transfer restrictions and there are no other such restrictions in US national laws.

Please note that following the Judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union on 6 October 2015 in the case of Schrems (C‑362/14) the US‑EU safe harbor regime is no longer regarded as a valid basis for transferring personal data to the US.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Security

Most US businesses are required to take reasonable technical, physical and organizational measures to protect the security of sensitive personal information (eg health or financial information, telecommunications usage information, or information that would require security breach notification). A few states have enacted laws imposing more specific security requirements for data elements that trigger security breach notice requirements. For example, Massachusetts has enacted regulations which apply to any company that collects or maintains sensitive personal information (eg name in combination with Social Security number, driver's license, passport number, or credit card or financial account number) on Massachusetts residents. Among other things, the Massachusetts regulations require regulated entities to have a comprehensive, written information security program; the regulations also set forth the minimum components of such program, including binding all service providers who touch this sensitive personal information data to protect it in accordance with the regulations. Both Nevada and Massachusetts laws impose encryption requirements on the transmission of sensitive personal information across wireless networks or beyond the logical or physical controls of an organization, as well as on sensitive personal data stored on laptops and portable storage devices.

HIPAA regulated entities are subject to much more extensive data security requirements, and some states impose further security requirements (eg for payment card data, for social security numbers, or to employ secure data destruction methods). HIPAA security regulations apply to so-called ‘covered entities’ such as doctors, hospitals, insurers, pharmacies and other health-care providers, as well as their ‘business associates’ which include service providers who have access to, process, store or maintain any protected health information on behalf of a covered entity. ‘Protected health information’ under HIPAA generally includes any personally identifiable information collected by or on behalf of the covered entity during the course of providing its services to individuals.

Federal financial regulators impose extensive security requirements on the financial services sector, including requirements for security audits of all service providers who receive data from financial institutions.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Breach Notification

Security breach notification requirements are a US invention. 47 US states, Washington, D.C. and most US territories (including, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands) require notifying state residents of a security breach involving residents" name plus a sensitive data element typically, social security number, other government ID number, or credit card or financial account number. In a growing minority of states, sensitive data elements also include medical information, health insurance numbers, biometric data, and login credentials (ie username and password). Also, date of birth, tax ID, shared security "secrets", and birth and marriage certificates are each considered sensitive data under the breach notice laws of at least one state.

Notice of larger breaches is typically required to be provided to credit bureaus, and in minority of states, to State Attorneys Generals and/or other state officials. Federal laws require notification in the case of breaches of health care information, breaches of information from financial institutions, breaches of telecomm usage information held by telecomm services, and breaches of government agency information.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Enforcement

Violations are generally enforced by the FTC, State Attorneys General, or the regulator for the industry sector in question. Civil penalties are generally significant. In addition, some privacy laws (for example, credit reporting privacy laws, electronic communications privacy laws, video privacy laws, call recording laws, cable communications privacy laws) are enforced through class action lawsuits for significant statutory damages and attorney’s fees.  Defendants can also be sued for actual damages for negligence in securing personal information such as payment card data, and for surprising and inadequately disclosed tracking of consumers.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Electronic Marketing

The US regulates marketing communications extensively, including email and text message marketing, as well as telemarketing and fax marketing.

E-mail

The CAN-SPAM Act is a federal law that applies labelling and opt-out requirements to all commercial email messages. CAN-SPAM generally allows a company to send commercial emails to any recipient, provided the recipient has not opted out of receiving such emails from the sender, the email identifies the sender and the sender’s contact information, and the email contains instructions on how the recipient can easily and without cost opt out of future commercial emails from the sender. Not only the FTC and State Attorneys General, but also ISPs and corporate email systems can sue violators. Furthermore, knowingly falsifying the origin or routing of a commercial email message is a federal crime.

Text Messages

Federal and state regulations apply to the sending of marketing text messages to individuals. Express consent is required to send text messages to individuals, and, for marketing text messages, express written consent is required (electronic written consent is sufficient, but verbal consent is not). The applicable regulations also specify the form of consent. This is a significant class action risk area, and any text messaging (marketing or informational) needs to be carefully reviewed for strict compliance with legal requirements.

Telemarketing

In general, federal law applies to most telemarketing calls and programs, and a state’s telemarketing law will apply to telemarketing calls placed to or from within that particular state. As a result, most telemarketing calls are governed by federal law, as well as the law of one or more states. Telemarketing rules vary by state, and address many different aspects of telemarketing. For example, national (‘federal’) and state rules address calling time restrictions, honouring do-not-call registries and opt-out requests, mandatory disclosures to be made during the call, requirements for completing a sale, executing a contract or collecting payment during the call, restrictions on the use of auto-dialers and pre-recorded messages, and record keeping requirements. Many states also require telemarketers to register or obtain a license to place telemarketing calls.

Callers generally must scrub their calling lists against both a national and multiple state do-not-call registries, as it is prohibited to place a telemarketing call to a number listed in a do-not call registry unless a specific exemption applies. The national do-not-call rules (and several state rules), for example, exempt calls to existing business customers who have purchased a product or service in the last 18 months from the company on whose behalf the call is placed, as long as the customer has not specifically opted out of receiving telemarketing calls from the company. The use of auto-dialers to send pre-recorded messages generally requires affirmative opt-in consent of the recipient.

Fax Marketing

Federal law and regulations generally prohibit the sending of unsolicited advertising by fax without prior, express consent. Violations of the law are subject to civil actions and have been the subject of numerous class action lawsuits. The law exempts faxes to recipients that have an established business relationship with the company on whose behalf the fax is sent, as long as the recipient hasn’t opted out of receiving fax advertisements and has provided their fax number ‘voluntarily,’ a concept which the law specifically defines. The law also requires that each fax advertisement contain specific information, including:

  • A ‘clear and conspicuous’ opt out method on the first page of the fax
  • A statement that the recipient may make a request to the sender not to send any future faxes and that failure to comply with the request within 30 days is unlawful, and
  • A telephone number, fax number, and cost-free mechanism to opt-out of faxes, which permit consumers to make opt-out requests 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Online Privacy

Online Privacy Policy Requirement

The States of California and Delaware require commercial online websites and mobile applications to post a relatively general online privacy policy. Liability for failing to post the privacy policy may only be imposed if the website or mobile app is notified of its non-compliance and fails to post the policy with 30 days of receiving notice of non-compliance.

Cookies

There is no specific federal law that regulates the use of cookies, web beacons, Flash LSOs and other similar tracking mechanisms. However, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) applies to information collected automatically (eg via cookies) from child-directed websites and other websites and third party ad networks or plug-ins that knowingly collect personal information online from children under 13, COPPA also regulates behavioural advertising to children under 13.

In addition, undisclosed online tracking of customer activities poses class action risk. The use of cookies and similar tracking mechanisms should be carefully and fully disclosed in a website privacy policy. Furthermore, it is a best practice for websites that allow behavioural advertising on their websites to participate in the Digital Advertising Alliance code of conduct, which includes displaying an icon from which users can opt out of being tracked for behavioural advertising purposes. Under California law, any company that tracks any personally identifiable information about consumers over time and across multiple websites must disclose in its privacy policy whether the company honours any  ‘Do-Not-Track’ method or provides users a way to opt out of such tracking; however, the law does not mandate that companies provide consumers a ‘Do-Not-Track’ option. The same law also requires website operators to disclose in their privacy policy whether any third parties may collect any personally identifiable information about consumers on their website and across other third party websites, and prohibits the advertsing of certain products, services and materials (including alcohol, tobacco, firearms, certain dietarty supplements, ultraviolet tanning, tattoos, obscene matters, etc).

Minors

California law requires that operators of websites or online services that are directed to minors or that knowingly collect personally identifiable information from minors permit minors that are registered users of their sites to remove any content the minor has posted from the site or online service. The law does not give minors the right to remove information posted by third parties. Minors must be given clear notice on how to exercise their right to removal.

Location Data

Privacy requirements of location based apps and services is in flux and is a subject of extensive interest and debate. Federal Communications Commission regulations govern the collection and disclosure of location information by telecommunications carriers, including wireless carriers. Further, any location service that targets children under the age of 13 or has actual knowledge that it is collecting location information from children under age 13 must comply with the requirements of the COPPA Rules including obtaining prior verifiable parental consent in most circumstances. Both the Federal Trade Commission and California Attorney General's Office have issued best practices recommendations for mobile apps and mobile app platforms, and the California Attorney General has entered into an agreement with major app platforms in which they promise to prompt mobile apps to post privacy policies. Furthermore, a Department of Commerce led multi stakeholder negotiation to develop a code of conduct for mobile app privacy is well underway.

Last modified 25 Jan 2017
Contacts
Jim Halpert
Jim Halpert
Partner & Chair of US Data Protection and Privacy Group
T +1 202 799 4441
Jennifer Kashatus
Jennifer Kashatus
Partner, Data Protection, Privacy and Security
T +1 202 799 4448
Kate Lucente
Kate Lucente
Associate and Co-Editor, Data Protection Laws of World Handbook
T +1 813 222 5927
Last modified 25 Jan 2017