Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hearings on Major Revision of Expansive Massachusetts Data Privacy Law today on Beacon Hill

by Sarah Cortes

Public comment was received today on Beacon Hill on a major draft revision to MassachusettsData Privacy Law, Senate Bill 173. House Chairman Theodore Speliotis, pictured left, Senate Chairman Michael Morrissey, below, and a half dozen elected state officials presided this morning over a hearing on dozens of privacy, identity theft and credit card laws and related amendments, including SB 173.

About a dozen representatives of industry organizations plus one IT security professional testified at today’s hearing, unanimously supporting the bill, which revises MGL 93H, Massachusetts’ Data Privacy Law. The amendment makes four revisions:
The most major of the changes defers to existing federal law where applicable. HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley cover most enterprises. This takes a considerable burden off firms handling data records and reduces complexity.

Another major revision is the reversal of provisions that would dictate specific technical tools or methods like encryption. The revised law would steer clear of any such specific requirements.
Small firms will find relief in the third change, which requires separate standards for them.
The fourth change allows firms to take action against employees violating the security policy.

“As a major technology state, we need to get this right,” observed Anne Doherty JohnsonExecutive Director, New England Council TechAmerica, which represents about 1,500 member firms. “The current regulations exceeded the intent of the legislature and are very problematic for the reasons outlined. TechAmerica believes this legislation will correct those and is a huge step in the right direction.” Doherty, who testified today as she has in hearings on the bill over the last several months, echoed the opening statement by Chairman Morrissey. Morrissey, pictured left, stated that the hearing marked a crossroads between the approach up to the present, where the legislature expanded the scope and jurisdiction of the law beyond the borders of Massachusetts and beyond its original intent, and a possible future approach by incoming undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, Barbara Anthony. (see related story.)

Bradley A. MacDougall, Associate Vice President of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), also testified. AIM is the state’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan association of Massachusetts’ employers with more than 6,500 members who employ nearly one out of every five workers in Massachusetts. MacDougall captured the essence of sentiment expressed during three hours of testimony by approximately a dozen industry representatives:
“Data protection is a top priority for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and our members who will continue to pursue the development of reasonable data privacy regulations in Massachusetts. The delay, in the general effective date of May 1, 2009 to January 1, 2010, does not resolve the substantive issues within the current rules that impose high costs and prescribe specific technology solutions. Massachusetts cannot afford additional unreasonable regulations on employers working to protect jobs and prevent layoffs while competing in a global economy. Senate Bill 173 would provide a necessary solution in the absence of regulatory rule changes. The legislation would ensure that clear guidelines for the development of identify theft regulations be utilized to provide consistency for those entities already regulated under Federal law and further provide businesses with greater flexibility to strategically invest their limited operational and IT resources.”

MacDougall,AIM and a broad coalition of industry groups representing Technology, banking, retailers and mutual funds, among others, have been instrumental players in deconstructing and analyzing proposed legislation, explaining it to the public, raising awareness of the proposed law, and advising the legislature and Administration on issues of concern, since the TJ Maxx data breach set in motion the chain of events resulting in today’s hearing.

copyright 2009 Sarah Cortes
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