There have been quite a number of state HIPAA enforcement cases this year, and one expert points out a trend toward increasing state enforcement of HIPAA.
An article in Data Breach Today discusses a number of state HIPAA enforcement cases. Here are some of the ones discussed:
Massachusetts — $75,000 settlement with McLean Hospital for a data breach involving 1,500 victims based on an employee who routinely took home unencrypted backup tapes with PHI. From the state press release:
The AG’s complaint alleges that McLean, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, allowed an employee to regularly take home eight unencrypted back-up tapes containing clinical and demographic information from the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center that the hospital possessed. The tapes contained personal information such as names, social security numbers, diagnoses and family histories. When the employee was terminated from her position at McLean in May 2015, she only returned four of the tapes, and the hospital was unable to recover the others.
New Jersey — $100,000 settlement with EmblemHealth for a 2016 breach involving 81,000 victims. Details from the state’s press release:
The incident at issue took place on October 3, 2016 when EmblemHealth’s vendor sent a paper copy of EmblemHealth’s Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan’s Evidence of Coverage to 81,122 of its customers, including 6,443 who live in New Jersey.
The label affixed to the mailing improperly included each customer’s HICN, which incorporates the nine digits of the customer’s Social Security number, as well as an alphabetic or alphanumeric beneficiary identification code. (The number shown was identified as the “Package ID#” on the mailing label and did not include any separation between the digits.)
During its investigation, the Division found that following the departure of the EmblemHealth employee who typically prepared the Evidence of Coverage mailings, the task was assigned to a team manager of EmblemHealth’s Medicare Products Group, who received minimal training specific to the task and worked unsupervised. Before forwarding the data file to the print vendor, this team manager failed to remove the patient HICNs from the electronic data file.
I’ve been creating security and privacy awareness training for years, and I am always in the hunt for good stock photos to illustrate these issues. I thought I’d share with you some of the most ridiculous ones I’ve come across.
For the past four years, I’ve posted just the funniest hacker stock photos, but this year, I thought I’d broaden the focus and include more privacy and security topics. Without further delay, here they are . . .
This cartoon about artificial intelligence is based on something I often hear — that it is impossible to understand how certain decisions are made by certain algorithms. I wonder whether this problem is due to the fact that not enough effort is being devoted to addressing ethical issues such as the transparency of the decisionmaking process. It’s easy to say in the abstract that ethics is important. But to truly matter, ethics must be a part of the primary design process, not a secondary consideration. The amount of innovation going into new technology is staggering. Although time and effort are being spent on ethics, far less innovation is going into developing the ethical part of technological design.
A recent case involving the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), Rivera v Google (N.D. Ill. No. 16 C 02714, Dec. 28, 2018), puts the ills of Spokeo Inc. v. Robins on full display. In Rivera, plaintiffs sued Google under BIPA, which prohibits companies from collecting and storing specific types of biometric data without people’s consent. The plaintiffs alleged that Google collected and used their face-geometry scans through Google Photos without their consent. Google’s face recognition feature is defaulted to being on unless users opt out. Instead of addressing the merits of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit under BIPA, the court dismissed the case for lack of standing based on Spokeo, a fairly recent U.S. Supreme Court case on standing.
Spokeo is a terrible decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It purports to be an attempt to clarify the test for standing to sue in federal court, but it flunks on clarity and coherence. I previously wrote an extensive critique of Spokeo when the decision came out in 2016.
Beyond Spokeo‘s incoherent mess, there is another part of the opinion that is far worse — Spokeo authorizes courts to override legislatures in determining whether there’s a cognizable privacy harm under a legislature’s own statute. This part of Spokeo is a major usurpation of legislative power — it undermines a legislature’s determination about the proper remedies for violations of its own laws.
I’m pleased to announce that there is a newly-created archive of all of my notable privacy+security books posts – for years 2008-present. Together, there are probably about 100 books featured. The past decade has seen a tremendous abundance of scholarship on privacy and security topics, and there are some truly essential books discussed in these posts.
If you’re interested in a more comprehensive listing of privacy+security books (including books written before the past 10 years), Paul Schwartz and I maintain a page over at our Privacy+Security Academy website that lists privacy+security non-fiction books.
It is sad to say goodbye to Concurring Opinions, a law professor blog I co-founded in 2005. The blog began when a group of us (Dave Hoffman, Kaimi Wenger, Nate Oman, and me) who were blogging at PrawfsBlawg decided we wanted more autonomy in blog governance, so we founded Concurring Opinions. Over the years, we added many great permabloggers: Danielle Citron, Deven Desai, Frank Pasquale, Gerard Magliocca, Ronald K.L. Collins, Larry Cunningham, Naomi Cahn, Sarah Waldeck, Solangel Maldonado, Corey Yung, Jaya Ramji-Nogales, and others.
I have a few final thoughts about Concurring Opinions below, as well as a small piece of good news — I’ve archived most of my posts here on this special archive page. More on the archive later.
Much Internet traffic is not human. According to the NY Times:
How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”
The bots are starting to win. Many websites and social media profiles are fake ones too. Will the Internet soon largely be bots visiting content created by other bots?
Move over robocop, there’s a new constable in town — the robocall cop. In the past decade, robocalls have surged. There has also been a dramatic rise in litigation about these calls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The TCPA litigation is led by a small group of serial litigators, people who have assumed the role of private enforcers of the TCPA. This is a fascinating story about how privacy law combats the growing scourge of robocalls. We are seeing the effective use of private litigation as an enforcement tool, but there are differing interpretations about the virtues of the robocall cops. Also wrapped up on the story is the issue of harm.
Robocalls are rising at an alarming rate. In the month of September 2017 alone, there were 2.4 billion robocalls. The number keeps rising per month, and September 2018 gave birth to 4.1 billion robocalls. At this rate, there may be billions and billions more robocalls than stars in the universe! Robocalls are definitely a problem. I’ve never heard of anyone who likes robocalls; the mosquito probably ranks higher in popularity. But robocalls persist and proliferate. Annually, in the United States, the number of robocalls exceeds 100 per person. There are 4.5 million robocall complaints per year to the FTC.
Along with the rise of robocalls, litigation has also been increasing. Lawsuits are perhaps a bit more popular than robocalls or mosquitos, but not by much. The TCPA, 47 U.S.C. § 227, passed in 1991, requires various forms of prior consent for robocalls, which are calls made with what the TCPA refers to as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS). Violations of the TCPA can be enforced through a private right of action, and there are statutory damages of $500 per violation ($1,500 for willful violations). The number of TCPA lawsuits has skyrocketed, from 14 federal cases in 2007 to 4,392 federal cases in 2017.
Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) has agreed to pay $111,400 to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for an alleged violation of HIPAA. OCR found that the company failed to deactivate a former employee’s access to a web-based calendar that contained the protected health information (PHI) of 557 patients. The company also failed to obtain a business associate agreement (BAA) with the calendar company (Google).
On December 4, 2018, New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood announced a $4.95 million settlement with Oath, Inc. (formerly known as AOL), for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This is the largest penalty in a COPPA enforcement case in U.S. history.