Deirdre K. Mulligan & Joseph Simitian, Creating a Flexible Duty of Care to Secure Personal Information

Deirdre K. Mulligan & Joseph Simitian, Creating a Flexible Duty of Care to Secure Personal Information

Comment by: Deirdre Mulligan

PLSC 2008

Workshop draft abstract:

The use of compulsory information disclosures as a regulatory tool is recognized as an important, modern development in American law. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a publicly available EPA database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities, established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) is a widely studied example of the potential power of these comparatively light-weight regulatory interventions. The EPCRA has been credited with providing incentives for reductions and better management of toxic chemicals by firms eager to avoid reporting releases.  It has also been credited with providing information essential citizen and government engagement and action.

Drawing from a wide body of literature documenting how and why the EPCRA led to dramatic reductions in toxic releases, the paper considers the extent to which security breach notification laws are likely to produce similar results.  Anecdotal evidence and some qualitative research indicate that the security breach notification laws have created incentives for businesses to better secure personal information.  The law has encouraged investments in computer security as well as the development of new corporate policies.  The desire to avoid incidents that trigger the reporting requirement have led businesses to reconsider decisions about where data is stored, who has access to it, under what circumstances and with what protections it can reside on portable devices or media, and to generate more detailed mechanisms of both controlling and auditing information access events.  The authors, who, respectively, advised upon and authored California’s security breach notification law (AB 700/SB 1386), conclude that, in contrast to previous prescriptive regulation, the reporting requirement created an evolving standard of care, in effect a race or at least rise to the top, but due to characteristics of information breaches and aspects of the current laws it has not engendered citizen engagement and organization similar to that of the EPCRA.