informa
4 MIN READ
Commentary

Where Are We Heading With Data Privacy Regulations?

New laws have made the current US privacy landscape increasingly complex.

With 65% of the global population expected to have its personal data covered under modern privacy regulations by 2023, respecting data privacy has never been more critical. As an example, the introduction of the federal American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), along with the recent passage of a patchwork of state-level privacy laws, has made the current US privacy landscape increasingly complex. This results in challenges for organizations, both in managing exploding volumes of data and understanding how specific data privacy regulations apply to them.

As businesses of all sizes try to remain on top of ever-changing data privacy laws and proactively monitor relevant rules, they should also be taking necessary steps to map where consumer and employment data lives, and the potential risks to that data. By bolstering cybersecurity defenses, organizations can be better prepared for data privacy regulations, now and in the future.

Let's remember why this has become so vital. First, consumers and employees are more informed than ever about personal rights and how data privacy regulations apply to them. This is an important and positive development, considering the dramatic increase in the risk of fines and litigation for noncompliance — one of the foundations necessary for protecting individual rights.

The convergence of personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI) also represents data risks. For example, payment information from an insurance claim, along with an email address and other digital breadcrumbs found on the Internet, can be used to steal identities or result in data exfiltration. In addition, the adoption and long-term acceptance of hybrid work models can create challenges. Some organizations ask their employees very focused questions about behaviors and work-from-home arrangements for measuring productivity. Depending on the specific questions, there could be further privacy implications.

Landscape of Confusion

Given the vast varieties and jurisdictions of the current data privacy and protection regulations, there can be some confusion. For example, US companies located in North Dakota that conduct business domestically may be somewhat less preoccupied with rules that apply overseas. By contrast, for US organizations offering goods and services in the UK or EU, regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — along with the potential for penalties if they are breached — may well apply.

Additionally, in some organizations preconceptions related to the size of the company could cause compliance or regulatory issues, such as believing a company is too small for the data privacy regulations to apply. While it's true that most of the newer regulations focus on companies of a certain size, the actual sizing criteria may relate to a range of factors, such as the number of employees or annual revenue. Whether data privacy regulations apply or not might also depend on the volume of consumer information an organization handles.

The point is, every set of regulations has nuances, which is why it's important to understand both the relevance and boundaries of each. This should be monitored under regular review, particularly as organizations grow and regulations begin to apply where they didn't before. For instance, there have been recent developments around the new EU–UK Data Privacy Framework, also known as Privacy Shield 2.0, concerning intelligence activities.

A good rule of thumb is to follow best practices as soon as possible, so when the need for formal compliance arrives, everything is in place. The risk of getting it wrong is serious, with organizations potentially facing massive fines for non-compliance. That says nothing of the impact to brand reputation when a serious breach is revealed, including loss of consumer, employee, or investor confidence, where the effects can be prolonged and painful.

Time for Federal Laws?

New data privacy laws are being proposed on a regular basis. There are five US states set to have key regulations going into effect in 2023: California, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, and Utah. With 10% of US states to be covered by data privacy legislation by the end of next year, it's clear that a federal law would be useful.

In particular, federal legislation could play a critical role in aligning the US with other countries on the subject of data privacy. It would also provide vendors and users with much-needed clarity on how to use, store, and manage sensitive data. This alone would go a long way in clearing up the widespread confusion that abounds due to the existing patchwork of regulation. While the exact timing of federal legislation like the proposed ADPPA is unclear, it's not a matter of if, but when.

Overall, data and the laws that govern its protection exist within a rapidly evolving regulatory ecosystem. Further change — both domestically and internationally — is inevitable. Therefore, organizations must focus on the short- and long-term responsibilities of handling and safeguarding data. It's not just the right thing to do ethically and morally, it also represents sound decision making for the health of the business.