Tuesday, December 4, 2007

TJX -- Banks' Motion for Class Certification Denied

This is the court's decision denying class certification by the banks suing TJX. Have not fully read through it, but interestingly it appears that the nature of the negligent misrepresentation claim (e.g. the reliance requirement) is one of the reasons that class cert. was ruled inappropriate.

TJX Denial of Motion for Class Certification

Monday, November 5, 2007

TJX -- Banks File Expert Opinion

This is a very interesting read. The banks suing TJX retained an expert (former security guru for MasterCard) to opine on TJX's failure to follow security standards. In particular, PCI. You can find the expert opinion that was filed with the court here: Bank Expert Opinion

A few interesting points:

(1) PCI is being set up as the legal standard of due care. It does not appear that compliance was very close in this one, but for cases on the fringe, we are going to have courts deciding what compliance with PCI means; and

(2) the expert used reports generated by TJX's own security auditors against TJX.

On number (2), I always advise my clients to attempt to get their audits under the umbrella of attorney-client privilege (or work product). Basically, retain the security assessor as an expert to assist with legal/regulatory compliance review. This it at least gives an argument of attorney-client privilege and may allow companies like TJX to keep these extremely damaging reports out of evidence (although admittedly the privilege is often leaky). Not sure if that was done in the TJX matter (if it was, does anybody know how they lost the privilege?)

Friday, November 2, 2007

TJX Motion to Dismiss Bank's Claims

I came across this ruling in the TJX matter that dismisses some of the banks' claims against TJX: Link

Consistent with past decisions (B.J. Wholesalers) it looks like issuing banks cannot rely on a 3rd party beneficiary theory to go after merchants for breach of contract. Also appears that the economic loss doctrine is still an effective block to general negligence actions.

However, the negligent misrepresentation claim and unfair/deceptive business act claims both survived. The negligent misrepresentation argument was very interesting. Basically, it appears that the issuing banks alleged that by participating in an a financial network that relies on members taking appropriate security measures, TJX made "implied representations" that they would take security measures required by industry practice. The court let these allegations stand, indicating that the economic loss doctrine does not apply to a negligent misrepresentation claim in Massachusetts. In addition the court ruled that the banks' reliance on such implied representations is a question of fact inappropriate for resolution at the motion to dismiss phase. These allegations also serve as the basis for the Banks' unfair and deceptive business practices claims under Chapter 93 of Massachusetts' law.

While the survival of these claims is certainly good news for the banks, TJX may still be able to stop this case from going to trial using a motion for summary judgment further down the line. It will be interesting to see if the Banks can successfully argue that the costs of preemptively reissuing credit cards constitutes "damages" for purposes of negligent misrepresentation.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

FACTA Privacy Lawsuit Developments – Companies Sued for Online Credit Card Receipts

This month’s newsletter follows up on some developments in the FACTA credit card receipt class action suits that InfoSecCompliance LLC (“ISC”) explored in its April and June 2007 newsletters (What You Don’t Know Just Might Hurt You. – April 2007; FACTA Privacy Class Action Lawsuit Developments – Bad News and Good News for Merchants). Recently plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against companies displaying credit card receipts on the consumer’s computer screen (not printed on a paper receipt), and at least one court has denied a merchant’s motion to dismiss a case based on online credit card receipts. In other words, the FACTA credit card receipt prohibitions may not be limited to paper receipts.

FACTA Summary

As discussed previously by ISC, a rash of over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed alleging violation of the Fair and Accurate Transaction Act of 2003 (“FACTA”), which limits the information that can be shown on an electronically-printed credit card receipt to the last five digits of the credit card number, and prohibits printing a credit card’s expiration date on the receipt. FACTA specifically provides:

Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, no person that accepts credit cards or debit cards for the transaction of business shall print more than the last 5 digits of the card number or the expiration date upon any receipt provided to the cardholder at the point of the sale or transaction.

* * *

(2) LIMITATION.—This subsection shall apply only to receipts that are electronically printed, and shall not apply to transactions in which the sole means of recording a credit card or debit card account number is by handwriting or by an imprint or copy of the card.

15 U.S.C. 1681c(g) (emphasis supplied). A single willful violation of FACTA could result in damages ranging from $100 to $1,000 without the plaintiff having to establish that he or she suffered actual harm. Class plaintiffs are alleging hundreds of millions of dollars in statutory damages against such household names as Urban Outfitters, IKEA, Cost Plus and Toys-R-Us.

Recent Suits Filed Against Online Companies

In a complaint filed August 8, 2007 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, plaintiffs alleged that after they purchased iPods and other electronic equipment from Apple Computer Inc. online, the company provided receipts that included the full credit or debit card number used to make the purchase (Maria v. Apple Computer Inc., S.D. Fla., 1:07-cv-22040-AJ, complaint filed 8/8/07).

In addition, in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, plaintiffs alleged they received receipts with their full payment card number information after they paid for hotel reservations and services online through a subsidiary of Expedia Inc. (Sutton v. Expedia Inc., S.D. Ill., No. 3:07-cv-00547-GPM-DGW, complaint filed 7/31/07).

These lawsuits may have been initiated because of a recent ruling against Stubhub Inc. in a FACTA lawsuit.

Stubhub Ruling: On-Screen Credit Card Receipt Qualifies as “Printed”

Stubhub, Inc., an online ticket broker, was sued for a violation of FACTA based on an electronically generated credit card receipt, and the plaintiff in that case survived a motion to dismiss the case. In July 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that a credit card expiration date appearing on an electronically generated receipt qualifies as “printed” for purposes of FACTA (Vasquez-Torres v. Stubhub Inc., C.D. Cal., No. CV 07-1328, motion to dismiss denied 7/2/07).

Since the term “print” was not defined in FACTA, Stubhub and the court looked to common dictionary usage for guidance on the definition. Stubhub cited Webster's Third New International Dictionary, which defines "print" in part as "to make an impression in or upon." The court held that even under Stubhub’s definition, Stubhub had “made an impression upon” a computer screen when it displayed the credit card expiration date. The court also cited Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed. 2002, p. 924), which defined "print" as "to display on a surface (as a computer screen) for viewing."

In addition, the court held that its ruling was consistent with the purposes of FACTA: to prevent identity theft in all its forms. The court reasoned that a narrow interpretation limited to paper-printed records did not comport with the broad goals of FACTA in combating identity theft. The court stated that if Congress intended to exclude receipts printed on a computer screen, it could have explicitly done so as it did for the exclusion of “transactions in which the sole means of recording a credit card or debit card account number is by handwriting or by an imprint or copy of the card.”


While some of the recent rulings on class certification may have slowed down the FACTA lawsuits for plaintiffs, the potential for lawsuits with respect to online credit card receipts poses considerable challenges to organizations. Just getting sued and having to incur substantial fees to defend the suit could be an expensive and distracting proposition. Companies, working with attorneys and IT professionals, should conduct an inventory of their online consumer systems to determine whether any of their websites or portals displays credit card confirmations or receipts with expiration dates or credit card numbers in excess of the last five digits. If such information is displayed, organizations should seek to technologically disable that display. In addition, service providers (e.g. ecommerce payment processors, hosters, application service providers) that may be working with companies displaying credit card information using the service provider’s systems, should consider informing their customers of FACTA and adding contract terms to protect themselves from FACTA liability.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

FACTA Privacy Class Action Lawsuit Developments – Bad News and Good News for Merchants

This month’s post follows up on some developments in the FACTA credit card receipt class action suits that InfoSecCompliance explored in April 2007 newsletter (What You Don’t Know Just Might Hurt You. – April 2007). In bad news for merchants defending these FACTA suits, the U.S. Supreme Court (“USSC”) upheld a broad interpretation of “willful violation” of FACTA. However, in good news for merchants, citing potential bankruptcy-inducing damages ranging from $340 million to $3.4 billion, a U.S. District Court in California refused to certify a 3.4 million person class alleging FACTA violations.

FACTA Summary

As discussed in April, a rash of over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed alleging violation of the Fair and Accurate Transaction Act of 2003 (“FACTA”), which limits the information that can be shown on an electronically-printed credit card receipt to the last five digits of the credit card number, and specifically prohibits printing a credit card’s expiration date on the receipt. A single willful violation of FACTA could result in damages ranging from $100 to $1,000 (FACTA is incorporated into and part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act [“FCRA”]), without the plaintiff having to establish that he or she suffered actual harm. Class plaintiffs are alleging hundreds of millions of dollars in statutory damages against such household names as Urban Outfitters, IKEA, Cost Plus and Toys-R-Us.

Perhaps the key issue to date for these cases is the meaning of “willful violation.” In two separate FRCA cases in a different context (Geico v. Edo and Safeco Ins. v. Burr), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled as follows:

In sum, if a company knowingly and intentionally performs an act that violates FCRA, either knowing that the action violates the rights of consumers or in reckless disregard of those rights, the company will be liable under 15 U.S.C. § 1681n for willfully violating consumers’ rights.

Both of these Ninth Circuit cases were appealed to the USSC, which was asked to rule on whether the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of “willful violation” was valid. The general consensus among commentators was that the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation would make it less difficult to collect statutory damages for FACTA credit card receipt violations, and that a narrow interpretation had the potential to cripple these FACTA class action suits for plaintiffs.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling on “Willful Violations” Under FACTA

In Geico and Safeco, the class plaintiffs alleged that the insurance company defendants violated the FCRA by failing to provide notice of insurance policy changes based on the plaintiffs’ credit scores. The plaintiffs argued that “willful violation” included not only “knowing” violations of FCRA, but also reckless disregard of FCRA statutory duties. Turning to precedent interpreting similar language in other statutes and under common law, the USSC ruled against the insurance companies and concluded that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling was correct: one can “willfully violate” FRCA by knowingly violating the statute or acting in reckless disregard of the FCRA obligations.

In short, the USSC adopted a more lenient standard of proof for plaintiffs to establish FCRA obligations. Plaintiffs will still face obstacles in proving recklessness disregard. However, a merchant’s claim that it did not know of the FACTA requirements may not serve as a complete bar; plaintiffs will likely be able to present evidence concerning the merchant’s efforts to discover its FACTA obligations and whether or not the merchant should have known about the FACTA credit card requirements.

FACTA Class Action Certification Denied

In good news for merchants, in May 2007 the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected a motion to certify a class action in Spikings v. Cost Plus, Inc. The Court focused on whether a class action would be superior to other methods of adjudication as required under Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court cited other cases ruling that Rule 23(b)(3)’s “superiority requirement” was not met where the defendant’s liability “would be enormous and completely out of proportion to any harm suffered by the plaintiff.” It also listed other cases that generally denied class certification, including an FCRA case, where the damages would be “absurd” relative to harm suffered.

In this case, the Court noted that if the class was certified the potential statutory penalties ranged from $340 million to $3.4 billion (based on a penalty ranging from $100 to $1000 per violation for 3.4 million class defendants), despite the fact that the lead plaintiff testified that it did not suffer any actual damages. The court noted that the entire Cost Plus organization was worth approximately $316 million and that a judgment on a class action in this case for even the minimum fine would bankrupt it. The Court further noted that Cost Plus began truncating its credit card receipts as soon as it became aware of the technical violation of FACTA, and that it was possible for the class plaintiffs to file individual suits to recover damages. Finally, the court noted that certifying the class opened the potential for abuse by plaintiffs’ attorneys in the form solicitation of unnecessary litigation. Based on the foregoing, the Court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.


While the USSC’s decision concerning “willful violation” of FACTA may be disappointing for merchants under suit, if the Spikings decision survives appeal the “teeth” associated with these lawsuits may have been extracted. The same logic that applied in the Cost Plus matter could apply to other retailers that face insolvency if they lose a class action suit. Its hard to imagine courts desiring to put some of the top U.S. retail brands out of business when no actual harm has been shown to have occurred. Paradoxically the reason that these suits are being filed in the first place (the large number of plaintiffs and the potential for a large pay-off for plaintiffs’ attorneys through class action) is the same reason they may ultimately be unsuccessful. If plaintiffs’ lawyers cannot proceed using the class action mechanism it will not likely be cost effective to pursue individual cases.

Nonetheless, it is premature to come to any firm conclusions on the reasoning set forth in the Spikings decision since it will likely be appealed and there also may be other district courts across the country that could rule differently. If Spikings is overruled, the USSC’s decision may provide plaintiffs’ counsel with significant arguments and settlement leverage. At the bare minimum, until some of these issues are resolved by higher courts, merchant-defendants will have to incur significant legal fees to fight these matters. InfoSecCompliance will keep you updated concerning any other material developments in this matter.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Minnesota’s “Plastic Card Security Act”

A Direct Path to Merchant Liability for Payment Card Security Breaches

As reported in ISC’s March 2007 Newsletter, States like Massachusetts and a handful of others (five in total, including: MA, IL, CT, TX and MN) are considering bills that provide financial institutions (e.g. banks and credit unions) with the ability to sue organizations that expose payment card data due to a security breach (“Payment Card Breach Laws”). These proposed Payment Card Breach Laws provide banks with the right to reimbursement from merchants for costs associated with payment card security breaches, including for the cost to reissue credit cards (allegedly $20 - $50 per card). In short, under Payment Card Breach Laws, when a merchant suffers a breach it could be liable for thousands or even millions of dollars. Taking an extreme example, in the TJX matter, 45 million cards where allegedly exposed – the cost to reissue assuming $20 per card is $900 million. For smaller or medium companies that lose thousands or tens of thousands of card numbers, the impact could jeopardize their solvency.

On May 21, 2007, Minnesota became the first State to pass such a law -- Minnesota’s Plastic Card Security Act (H.F. 1758 -- the “Act”) is a landmark statute that may radically increase the risk of liability and alter the security practices of retailers and service providers handling payment card data. In this issue, ISC summarizes the Act and outlines some of the issues and challenges arising out of it.

1. The Plastic Card Security Act.

Subdivisions 1 and 2 of the Act, which prohibit the retention of certain payment card data for more than forty-eight (48) hours, first take effect on August 1, 2007. Subdivisions 3 and 4 of the law, which provides the right to reimbursement and allow financial institutions to file lawsuits to recover costs associated with a payment card security breach do not apply until August 1, 2008, and only apply to security breaches occurring after that date.

A. “The 48-hour Rule” -- Payment Card Retention Limitations (Subdivisions 1 and 2)

Subdivisions 1 and 2 of the Act attempt to address the problem of payment card security breaches by prohibiting companies that accept payment cards from retaining card security code data, PIN verification code numbers or the full contents of any track of magnetic stripe data (“Sensitive Authentication Data”), subsequent to forty-eight (48) hours after authorization of a transaction. Stated more simply, to comply with the Act, companies accepting payment cards must destroy or delete Sensitive Authentication Data within 48 hours of authorizing a transaction with such data (the “48-hour rule”).

This Act also applies to entities using service providers that store, process or transmit payment card data – a merchant that provides Sensitive Authentication Data to a service provider will be in violation of the Act if its service provider does not comply with the 48-hour rule

Coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, v. 1.1 (“PCI Standard”) also references and has rules surrounding Sensitive Authentication Data. Section 3.2 of the PCI Standard (as well as the Preface) prohibits the storage of Sensitive Authentication Data subsequent to authorization (even if encrypted). Unlike the Act, the PCI Standard does not specify a timeframe during which the merchant may retain Sensitive Authentication Data – by its silence, the PCI Standard arguably appears to require the destruction or deletion of Sensitive Authentication “immediately” after authentication. Therefore, as discussed below, PCI compliance (where there has been a tight interpretation of the section 3.2 requirements) may effectively act as a “quasi-safe harbor” from liability under the Act.

B. Financial Institution’s Right to Reimbursement

The Act uses violation of the 48-hour rule as the trigger for financial institutions to recover when there is a security breach exposing payment card data. Subdivision 3 provides that when an entity that has violated the 48-hour rule suffers a security breach (or its service provider suffers a breach), any financial institution that issued payment cards affected by such breach is entitled to reimbursement of the costs of “reasonable actions undertaken by the financial institution as a result of the breach in order to protect the information of its cardholders or to continue to provide services to cardholders.”

Stated more simply, merchants holding Sensitive Authentication Data for more than 48 hours that suffer a security breach must reimburse “issuing banks” reasonable costs to protect cardholder information and continue servicing cardholders. Such costs could include (but are not limited to) costs in connection with:

(1) cancellation or reissuance of payment cards affected by the breach;

(2) closure of accounts affected by the breach;

(3) opening or reopening of accounts affected by the breach;

(4) refunds or credits to cardholders to cover the costs of unauthorized transactions; and

(5) notification of cardholders affected by the breach.

In addition, such financial institutions are entitled to recover costs for damages paid by them to cardholders injured by the breach (e.g. essentially an indemnification right in the event the financial institution is sued or settles with a cardholder).

Subdivision 4. of the Act (Remedies) provides financial institutions with a private right of under section 8.31 subdivision 3a. of Minnesota’s laws (basically a consumer protection statute). In addition to a right to bring a suit to recover damages and equitable relief, subdivision 3a provides the financial institution with the right to seek costs of investigation and attorney fees. The Act states that the financial institution’s private right of action is in the public interest and indicates that the remedies are cumulative and do not restrict any other rights or remedies available.

2. Analysis

This law presents some very interesting issues and challenges for companies accepting payment cards.

A. Direct Path to Liability -- Low Harm Threshold – “Costs of Reasonable Actions”

Where the worlds of data security and the law meet, to date and despite many lawsuits, there have been very few instances of courts finding legal liability for security breaches. In fact, issuing banks have previously tried to sue retailers for payment card data breaches, but the courts presiding over those cases rejected the banks’ third party beneficiary, negligence, promissory estoppel and breach of fiduciary duty claims, and dismissed the cases (see e.g. B.J. Wholesaler Summary Judgment Ruling, PSECU Motion to Dismiss). In short, there was no legal theory that clearly provided a right for issuing banks to recover – that hurdle has been jumped by the passage of the Act.

Now issuing banks have specific statutory rights to reimbursement and indemnity, as well as a private right of action to enforce those rights. The only requirements are as follows: (1) the entity is in violation of the 48-hour rule; (2) it suffers a breach of personal information affecting payment cards; and (3) the issuing financial institution incurs costs of reasonable actions to protect or continue servicing cardholders. There is no requirement that the merchant have acted intentionally, willfully, recklessly or negligently. In fact, it does not appear that the financial institution even has to establish that Sensitive Authentication Data was exposed.

As far as reimbursable costs are concerned, the issuing financial institution need not establish that the costs it incurs are necessary, just that the costs arise out of “reasonable” actions. The issuing financial institutions are not explicitly required to show that they will suffer harm or fraud if they do not take the actions (although this would factor into what constitutes “reasonable actions”). Their actions can be completely precautionary in nature so long as they are reasonable. In addition, there is a high likelihood that a court would view the list of example provided in the statute as representing examples of “reasonable actions” and perhaps a minimum list of what financial institutions are entitled reimbursement for. With the costs to reissue cards allegedly ranging from $20-50 per card, the costs of reissuance alone could be substantial (e.g. banks, including Chase, Citibank, the Maine Credit Union and TD Bank North, have already reportedly reissued millions of payment cards based on the TJX breach).

B. Nationwide Applicability -- Scope Beyond Minnesota?

Does the Minnesota law have a nationwide applicability? The answer is “maybe” for persons or entities doing business in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States. Unlike Minnesota’s consumer-oriented breach notice law, which requires notice to Minnesota residents whose personal information may have been acquired by an unauthorized person (See H.F. 2121), the Act is not limited to Minnesota residents. Rather, it applies to “persons or entit[ies] conducting business in Minnesota” and unauthorized acquisition of computerized personal information (regardless of the residency associated with that information). Therefore, by the plain words of the statute, it may be possible that a company simply doing business in Minnesota, which suffers a breach in California, could trigger duties under the Act. Of course there may be jurisdictional issues that preclude suit in Minnesota or application of Minnesota law, but the issue is complex and far from clear.

C. Service Provider Liability.

Unfortunately for merchants that use service providers to handle payment card data, the Act still applies if their service provider suffers a breach. What this means for practical purposes is that merchants must ensure that their service providers have processes in place to comply with the 48-hour retention rule. This may be problematic: if the service provider does not have those processes in place it may charge merchants to comply. Moreover, despite the August 1, 2007 start date for the Act, it may take some time to modify systems and processes to achieve compliance.

Finally, the Act will require merchants to add new contractual duties to their service provider contracts that mandate compliance with the Act and most importantly, provide for indemnification. Significantly the Act makes the merchant responsible for the breach, and does not provide a direct route for banks to go after service providers unless “accepting an access device [payment card] in connection with a transaction.” Merchants will have to add indemnification language to shift the risk of loss for breaches that are the service provider’s fault. For existing relationships, merchants may have to reopen contract negotiations.

D. Personal Information Requirement

One potential limitation of the Act is the definition of “personal information.” The Act requires the acquisition of personal information by an unauthorized person to be triggered. In this context, personal information includes an individual’s first (or first initial) and last name, in combination with account number or credit or debit card numbers, in combination with any required security code, access code or password that would permit access to an individual’s financial account. Therefore, if a breach occurs that only exposes payment card data, but does not expose the combination of data listed in the definition of “personal information,” the Act may not apply. It is unclear whether companies can segregate this data to avoid the combination that triggers the Act – merchants should confer with their internal or external security professionals to further explore this and other risk-reducing measures.

E. No Encryption “Safe Harbor

Unlike Minnesota’s breach notice law applying to consumers (see H.F. 2121) which only applies to breaches of “unencrypted” personal information, the Act does not provide an “encryption” safe harbor. In other words, the Act applies even if Sensitive Authentication Data stored more than 48-hours is encrypted.. It appears that the drafters have decided that the only way to avoid applicability of the law is to destroy or erase Sensitive Authentication Data. Significantly, section 3.2 of the PCI Standard also discounts encryption of this data.

F. Relationship to the PCI Standard – PCI “Quasi-Safe Harbor?”

Is compliance with the Act impacted in any way if a merchant or service provider is compliant with the PCI Standard. Strict compliance with the PCI Standard may effectively create a quasi safe-harbor to avoid liability under the Act. Both the Act and the PCI Standard prohibit the retention of Sensitive Authentication Data, however the Act allows retention of such data for 48 hours, while section 3.2 of the PCI Standard prohibits storage of such data completely after authentication (some qualified security assessors have said that VISA’s time limit is 24 hours – however this is not explicitly stated anywhere). Therefore, if an entity is compliant with the PCI Standard, so long as section 3.2 of the PCI Standard has been strictly interpreted and followed (e.g. immediate deletion or destruction), they should also be in compliance with the Act’s 48-hour retention rule.

The problem of course is that it is possible that some entities (or their qualified security assessors) may have interpreted section 3.2 more loosely, potentially allowing Sensitive Authentication Data to be retained beyond 48 hours. Therefore, entities that are PCI Compliant should not automatically conclude that they are compliant with the Act. They should check with their internal or external security assessors to determine how long Sensitive Authentication Data is stored and how strictly they interpret rule 3.2. Moreover, for future PCI security assessments, entities should at least consider imposing a 48-hour retention limitation on Sensitive Authentication Data retention if they want to be aligned with the Act.

3. Conclusion

The Plastic Card Security Act and similar Payment Card Breach laws are likely to significantly impact the data security risks and liability associated with handling payment card data. For one of the first times in U.S. history, a direct liability path exists for a large segment of U.S. businesses that suffer security breaches involving payment card data. The true impact will not be known until these laws are used, but, especially for small or medium companies heavily reliant on payment card transactions, a careful examination of security practices and service provider contracts is recommended to achieve compliance with the Act. In addition, for those merchants that have not yet complied with the PCI Standard, now is the time to get serious.

As with many data security-related laws and regimes, compliance and risk management is a multi-disciplinary exercise. Entities should retain an attorney to assist with interpreting the Act and modifying service provider contracts to align with the Acts 48-hour rule. Security professionals should be asked to assist with achieving the data retention requirements, as well as working toward PCI compliance (and strict compliance with section 3.2). Finally, this is an area where information security and privacy liability insurance has clear and direct value. Companies should look at their current policies to determine whether coverage exists, and should consider security and privacy policies available in the market that are directly geared toward covering such liability. Taking these steps will provide a solid foundation to begin addressing the risk associated with the Act and other Payment Card Breach Laws that get passed.

Monday, April 30, 2007

What You Don’t Know Just Might Hurt You.

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.”

—Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002

Regardless of what one thinks of Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as Secretary of Defense, these words hold a pearl of wisdom that applies to organizations struggling to comply with privacy and security laws. One of the major difficulties for modern organizations working with private personal information is simply knowing what privacy and security laws apply to their operations. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that, even for smaller- and medium-sized organizations, modern commerce often involves transacting with consumers in multiple legal jurisdictions (e.g. local, State, Federal and international). In short, since privacy and security laws from several jurisdictions may apply, it is highly likely that a lot of “unknown unknowns” exist, which can cause adverse impacts. This month’s newsletter explores an instance where unknown unknowns may have come into play in the privacy context, and how organizations can begin to address the problem.

Too Much Information?

FACTA Credit Card Receipt Class Action Suits a Cause for Serious Concern.

In what appears to be a classic case of “unknown unknowns,” a rash of over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed in California alleging violation of the Fair and Accurate Transaction Act of 2003 (“FACTA”). Section 15 U.S.C. § 1681c(g) of FACTA limits the information that can be printed on an electronically printed credit card receipt to the last five digits of the credit card number, and specifically prohibits printing a credit card’s expiration date on the receipt. Organizations were provided with a three-year grace period to comply with this Federal law (December 4, 2006 was the first date that compliance was required).

A single willful violation of FACTA (which is incorporated into and part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act [“FCRA”]) could result in damages ranging from $100 to $1,000. Plaintiffs are also entitled to actual damages if they can prove a negligent violation of the FACTA. With companies processing millions of credit card transactions each year the damage potential for these lawsuits is staggering.

These class action suits have been filed against companies such as: Urban Outfitters; IKEA; Chanel Inc.; Toys-R-Us Delaware Inc.; Oakley, Inc.; Rite Aid Corp.; Costco Wholesale Inc.; The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; California Pizza Kitchen Inc.; El Pollo Loco; Levy Restaurants; United Artists Theatre Circuit Inc.; FedEx Kinkos Office and Print Services Inc.; Valero Energy Corp.; and Avis Rent-A-Car Systems Inc. Lawsuits are also spreading outside of California – two lawsuits were filed on March 14, 2007 in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Thus far, many of the cases have survived motions to dismiss. Defendants have argued that dismissal is warranted because, while section 1681c(g) of FACTA applies to “cardholders,” private rights of action are only available to “consumers” under section 1681n of FCRA. This argument was rejected by California courts when raised by Oakley, Inc. and IKEA.

The success of these cases could ultimately hinge on the meaning of “willfully fails to comply” under section 1681n of FCRA. Two 9th Circuit cases (the Federal Appellate Court for California and other western States) have ruled on the meaning of “willfully.” In Geico v. Edo, the court alluded to a “recklessness” standard:

In sum, if a company knowingly and intentionally performs an act that violates FCRA, either knowing that the action violates the rights of consumers or in reckless disregard of those rights, the company will be liable under 15 U.S.C. § 1681n for willfully violating consumers’ rights. A company will not have acted in reckless disregard of a consumers’ rights if it has diligently and in good faith attempted to fulfill its statutory obligations and to determine the correct legal meaning of the statute and has thereby come to a tenable, albeit erroneous, interpretation of the statute. In contrast, neither a deliberate failure to determine the extent of its obligations nor reliance on creative lawyering that provides indefensible answers will ordinarily be sufficient to avoid a conclusion that a company acted with willful disregard of FCRA’s requirement. Reliance on such implausible interpretations may constitute reckless disregard for the law and therefore amount to a willful violation of the law (emphasis added).

This interpretation differs from interpretations in other Federal Appellate Districts, and this issue has now been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (additional Supreme Court briefs and other information can be found here). If the Supreme Court disagrees with the 9th Circuit’s (and the 3rd Circuit’s) interpretation of “willfully,” then these class actions may be difficult for plaintiffs to win (it is doubtful that plaintiffs will be able to establish actual damages to recover for “negligent” failure to comply with FCRA).

Many corporate defendants reported that they were “surprised” by the FACTA credit card receipt requirements despite the three-year grace period to achieve compliance. That seems like a plausible explanation considering that most rational companies, had they known of this requirement, would most likely have chosen to limit the information on their credit card receipts rather than face a potential fine of up to $1000 per violation and expensive attorney fees to defend class action lawsuits. Nonetheless, these companies are now experiencing the risks and expense associated with unknown privacy laws.

What should companies do to address “unknown unknowns” when it comes to privacy laws?

Organizations are not omnipotent – they cannot possibly know all things at all times at all places. However, they can take action to minimize their risk of unknown privacy and security laws, including: (1) designing their privacy programs consistent with Fair Information Practice Principles; (2) acquiring resources to stay on top of privacy and security regulations and case law; and (3) insuring against the unknown.

Fair Information Practice Principles. While the legal requirement to limit credit card receipt data may not be intuitive to all companies, there are certain general activities that rational actors know could get them into trouble when it comes to handling customer information. For example, selling or collecting personal information without notice or consent can obviously be problematic, and as a result there are laws that address those general categories of privacy violations. Addressing general privacy activities and principles can decrease risk even if specific regulatory requirements are unknown.

In fact many, if not most, privacy and security-related laws reflect the principles and framework set forth in the Fair Information Practice Principles (“FIPP”). FIPP includes: notice/awareness, choice/consent, access/participation, security/integrity and enforcement/redress. If FIPP is the goal and the organization strives to meet that goal with due diligence, that organization will likely have reduced its regulatory privacy risks (relative to organizations that do not consider FIPP).

The problem, of course, is that FIPP does not address every single detail of every privacy law. Some organizations that follow FIPP may have missed the specific requirements of FACTA or may not be aware of the specific notices (and fines) required under the CAN-SPAM Act, HIPAA, GLB and other more obscure laws. These class action lawsuits demonstrate how compliance to FIPP can help. Those companies diligently concerned about the security/integrity prong of FIPP, even without knowledge of FACTA’s specific legal requirement, may have made an independent determination that truncating credit card numbers on receipts is a good practice to secure credit card information from identity theft. In fact, some organizations likely adopted this practice prior to the FACTA law as the result of due diligence with general privacy principles.

Due Diligence Investigation. Legal violations arising out of privacy or security incidents increasingly threaten organizations in terms of reputation damage, legal fees and damage awards. In fact, more and more companies are dedicating specific resources toward addressing privacy and security legal compliance. The first step is establishing accountability within the organization by creating a manager solely responsible for privacy compliance (a C-level executive with direct reporting to the CEO is a best case), and providing he or she with a budget. The lead privacy compliance officer should hire or work with attorneys to develop a formal process for inventorying the personal information the company handles, tracking the flow of that information across jurisdictions from collection to storage/disposal and determining the laws that apply to the organization.

Companies should attempt to address the lowest hanging fruit first. In certain industries, such as finance and healthcare, comprehensive privacy laws exist such as GLB and HIPAA. If the personal information of European or Canadian companies is at issue, the national privacy law of those countries should be considered.

Determining the applicability of privacy and security laws requires a continuous effort that considers changes in both the organization’s internal privacy practices and the law. Those responsible for privacy compliance should engage in frequent and comprehensive communications with business managers whose units collect and handle personal information. Companies should track laws and legislation, and subscribe to privacy and security reporters and websites (feel free to contact me for a list of sources). A person who can make the link between organizational practices and changes in privacy laws, and how those practices laws might impact the organization, should be dedicated to tracking internal practices and privacy laws.

Privacy and Security Liability Insurance – Risk Transfer. Insurance is a very important tool for managing the “unknown unknowns.” For companies that operate across multiple jurisdictions, it is virtually impossible to know every law and how every part of an organization is reacting or failing to react to that law. This means that residual risk exists that must either be tolerated by the organization or transferred to a third party.

Privacy and security liability insurance is an excellent tool for decreasing a company’s risk load under these circumstances. While the uncertainty inherent in complying with every security or privacy law still exists for insurers, insurers can spread their risk across thousands of organizations. Moreover, even if aggregated events occur, as long as the insurer has a good financial rating, they should be able to absorb the loss. Even insurance companies without the highest financial ratings are typically reinsured by large reinsurers who are able to weather adverse situations.

The ability of insurers to underwrite privacy and security liability risks in a world where such risks are sometimes “unknown” addresses the main problem of modern organizations. Instead of expending huge amounts of resources to achieve an unattainable level of “perfect security,” or researching, discovering and analyzing every possible privacy law that applies to them, insurers can take the risk and help their insureds avoids those expenses.

That is not to say that insurers will insure companies with bad privacy practices or poor information security. To be insurable, at a minimum, “reasonable” security and privacy practices must be present (and what is reasonable can vary from insurer to insurer). Nonetheless, most companies that can establish “due diligence,” and have practices and policies adhering to FIPP and generally accepted security standards such as ISO 17799, will likely be insurable.

There are two key challenges for companies that want to use insurance as a risk management tool in this context. First is implementing security and privacy practices that meet a level of reasonableness at the lowest price. As long as insurance is available, spending more to achieve “more than reasonable” privacy/security may not be cost-effective. Moreover, large security and privacy overhauls can be disruptive to business. The risk avoided by implementing costly controls can be transferred for the price of an insurance policy which typically costs less than the controls.

Second, and perhaps most important for an organization that wants to manage risk through insurance, is ensuring that the privacy and security insurance policy it chooses actually covers the risks the organization desires to transfer. If it does not, the organization will be left handling the costs of that risk on its own. It takes a concerted effort by risk managers and key business stakeholders to understand not only the potential risks, but also how they might impact the organization if the risk is realized.

On the other side of the equation, since the current crop of security and privacy policies vary in their approach and coverage scope, it is not always easy to get a clear picture of what is covered. Organizations should make sure they have good brokers or insurance consultants who understand the specific risks of their company and the insurance products available to cover such risks. In all, if some time and effort is taken to understand the range of security and privacy insurance options, insurance can be a very cost-effective and efficient tool for dealing with “unknown unknowns.”


While the risks and problems associated with unknown privacy or security regulations may never be fully solved, the awareness of organizations and the skill and talent available to address the problem are probably at their highest. Companies simply need to acknowledge the fact that unknown unknowns exist in the privacy world, and dedicate time and resources toward at least converting them into “known unknowns.” Even unaddressed privacy laws are better than unknown laws because at least the organization is aware of some risk and presumably has factored it into their overall risk management scheme. Organizations that are serious about understanding the full scope of their risk need to engage in a due diligence investigation, and need to at least try to adhere to common industry privacy practices and security standards. Companies should also seriously consider transferring their residual risk rather than engaging in potentially never-ending and expensive attempts to “eliminate” their risk. When these steps are taken, organizations can decrease the risk and loss associated with unknown security and privacy laws.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Proposed Massachusetts Security Breach Notice Law Creates Additional Liability for Companies Accepting Credit Cards.

Proposed Massachusetts Security Breach Notice Law Creates Additional Liability for Companies Accepting Credit Cards.

For companies that store or process credit card data, the legal landscape may be getting a little more risky.

Similar to breach notice laws passed in thirty-five other States, a proposed Massachusetts bill (H. 213) requires notice to residents of the State if, as the result of a breach of system security, “misuse of information about a Massachusetts resident has occurred or is reasonably likely to occur.” The bill also requires entities that do not own or license personal information (which appears to include service providers working on behalf of the company that originally collected the information) to report to the owner or licensee of the personal information.

However, the bill goes a step further and requires organizations to reimburse banks for banks’ “reasonable actions” in response to a data security breach where notice is required. Reimbursable costs include:

(a) the cancellation or reissuance of any credit card issued by any bank or access device;

(b) the closure of any deposit, transaction, share draft or other account and any action to stop payments or block transactions with respect to any such account;

(c) the opening or reopening of any deposit, transaction, share draft, or other account for any customer of the bank; and

(d) any refund or credit made to any customer of the bank as a result of unauthorized transactions.

This new remedy may be related to recent unsuccessful lawsuits by banks seeking to recover the costs of reissuing credit cards exposed as the result of a security breach.

In 2005 B.J. Wholesalers suffered a security breach and was sued by several “issuing banks” to recover costs to reissue credit cards (B.J. Wholesalers faced suits by four banks alleging millions of dollars in losses). However, the courts presiding over those cases rejected the banks’ third party beneficiary, negligence, promissory estoppel and breach of fiduciary duty claims, and dismissed the cases (see e.g. B.J. Wholesaler Summary Judgment Ruling, PSECU Motion to Dismiss).

More recently, TJX Companies (holding company of such retailers as TJ Maxx, Homegoods and Marshalls and headquartered in Massachusetts) was sued by an Alabama-based AmeriFirstBank Inc. bank in the wake of a security breach. AmeriFirstBank alleges that it costs the bank approximately $20 to reissue a single card. News reports indicate that the breach may have exposed more than 40 million credit cards and approximately 60 banks have been notified of potential exposure. Some of these banks, including Chase, Citibank, the Maine Credit Union and TD Bank North, have already reportedly reissued millions of credit cards based on the TJX breach.

This Massachusett’s bill may not be an isolated event -- other States and the Federal government are reportedly considering similar legislation according to this credit union source.

What might this mean in terms of managing information security risk?

For companies handling credit card information it means a fairly direct path to legal liability if a breach exposes credit card information. The legislation is not limited to a narrow definition of retailer, but applies to the “commercial entities” (broadly defined). Assuming damages of $20 for each card reissued, if a breach involves several thousands or millions of cards, the potential damages could be staggering. For smaller organizations a potential security breach could result in bankruptcy. For larger retailers with millions of credit cards stored, it could result in tens of millions of dollars in damages.

Moreover, the standard of proof for banks is arguably not very high. First, there must have been a security breach that resulted in the misuse of information about a Massachusetts resident, or such a misuse is reasonably likely to occur. Second, the banks actions must have been “reasonable actions,” which includes those broad actions listed above. Therefore, a decision to report arguably guarantees that the organization will have to reimburse some bank costs. Ironically, since consumers do not have a direct remedy in the statute, the law may produce a strong incentive to avoid reporting to consumers if there is uncertainty as to whether misuse has occurred.

What should companies do to if a law like this is passed?

From a risk management perspective, organizations should conduct a risk analysis to determine how much credit card information they are handling, and whether it is subject to being stolen in large quantities. Since the potential liability for a breach could be enormous, the justification for enhanced security should be present. Regardless, companies should work hard toward at least achieving PCI compliance if handling credit card data. Since companies may be liable if their service provider suffers a breach, they should work to assess the controls of those service providers (or only work with those that are certified as PCI compliant)

In addition, the existence of a law like this creates a very strong argument for insurance to transfer the risk of loss. Risk managers should check their insurance policies to determine if any coverage exists under their current forms, and should consider the purchase of information security and privacy policies. Some policies now provide coverage for liability arising out of a security breach and with respect to the costs of providing notice of a security breach.

From a legal perspective, it appears that legal liability could arise out of a breach related to a third party service provider. Therefore, attorneys for companies collecting credit card information and passing it on to service providers for processing must make sure that there are contractual duties to maintain adequate security, report security breaches and potentially indemnify for losses (in fact the PCI Standard actually requires the development of contract terms that mandate compliance with the PCI Standard). In addition, attorneys need to be versed in the details of such laws so they can provide good counseling when a suspected security incident occurs.


It is very interesting that the liability potential for security breaches is now being pushed from the commercial side (while being pushed more slowly from the consumer side). If a bill such as H. 213 is passed it has the potential to radically change the information security risk management dynamic for companies handling credit cards. There will be strong interests on both sides (banks versus retailers) that will push for and against a scheme like this, so it is unlikely that it will be passed in its current form. Nonetheless, it will be very interesting to see if and how these laws develop further, and it is important for risk managers to pay close attention to the progress of bills of this type.