Yolanda Li, MJLST Staffer
Beginning in 2023, businesses will see enhanced regulations on data privacy. There has been an increase in legal requirements for company-held data in protection of companies’ customers as a number of proposed data security laws and regulations came into effect in 2023. Specifically, the FTC Safeguards Rule and the NIS2 Directive.
The FTC Safeguards Rule
The FTC Safeguards Rule came into force in December 2022. The FTC requires non-banking financial institutions “to develop, implement, and maintain a comprehensive security program to keep their customers’ information safe.” Non-banking financial institutions affected by this rule include mortgage brokers, motor vehicle dealers, and payday lenders. The Safeguards Rule is promulgated under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which requires financial institutions to “explain their information-sharing practices to their customers and to safeguard sensitive data.” Financial institutions include companies that offer consumer financial products or services like loans, insurance, and financial or investment advice. Specifically, the rule required that the covered financial institutions “designate a qualified individual to oversee their information security program, develop a written risk assessment, limit and monitor who can access sensitive customer information, encrypt all sensitive information, train security personnel, develop an incident response plan, periodically assess the security practices of service providers, and implement multi-factor authentication or another method with equivalent protection for any individual accessing customer information.”
One specific question that arises is whether the FTC Safeguards Rule will truly elevate data privacy standards. On its face the FTC Safeguards Rule does not run counter to the FTC’s mission of protecting consumers. However, the economic cost and effect behind the rule is debatable. One concern is that the rule may impose substantial costs, especially on small businesses, as the new burdens will render costs that may be unbearable for small businesses with less capital than large companies. According to Commissioner Christine S. Wilson, although financial institutions are already implementing many of the requirements under the rule, or have sophisticated programs that are easily adaptable to new obligations, there are still large burdens underestimated by the FTC Safeguards Rule. Specifically, labor shortages have hampered efforts by financial institutions to implement information security systems. Supply chain issues caused delays in obtaining equipment for updating information systems. What is important to note is, according to Commissioner Wilson, most of these factors are outside the control of the financial institutions. Implementing a heightened standard would thus cause unfairness, especially to small financial institutions who have even more trouble obtaining the necessary equipment during times of supply chain and labor shortages.
Recognizing such difficulties, the FTC did offer a certain extent of leniency for implementation of the rule. Specifically, the FTC extended the deadline by six months, primarily due to supply chain issues that may result in delays and shortage of qualified personnel to implement information security programs. This extension is beneficial to the Rule because it offers the covered financial institutions time for adjustment and compliance.
Another concern that the FTC Safeguards Rule has raised is that the mandates will not result in a significant reduction in data security risks in protecting customers. The answer to this question is still uncertain as the FTC Safeguards Rule just came into effect, and the extension pushes out implementation even farther. One thing to note, however, is that during the rule-making process the FTC sought comments on the proposed Safeguards Rule and during that time extended the deadline for the public to submit comments to changes by 60 days in. This fact may show that the FTC took careful consideration of how to most effectively reduce data security risks by giving the public ample time to weigh in.
A corresponding law is the NIS2 Directive by the EU that came into force on January 16, 2023. This EU-wide legislation provides a variety of legal measures to boost cybersecurity. Specifically, it requires member states to be appropriately equipped with response and information systems, set up a Corporation Group to facilitate corporate exchange of information among member states, and ensure a culture of security that relies heavily on infrastructures, including financial market infrastructure. The Directive also contains a variety of security and notification requirements for service providers to comply with. The NIS2 Directive echoes the FTC Safeguards Rule to a large extent regarding the elevated standard of cybersecurity measures.
However, the NIS2 Directive contains a different measure by implementing duties onto the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) itself. The Directive designates that ENISA assists Member States and the Corporation Groups set up under the Directive by “identifying good practices in the Member States regarding the implementation of the NIS directive, supporting the EU-wide reporting process for cybersecurity incidents, by developing thresholds, templates and tools, agreeing on common approaches and procedures, and helping Member States to address common cybersecurity issues.” The Directive ordering the agency itself to facilitate the carrying out of the Directive may add to the likelihood of success. Although the outcome is uncertain, primarily because of the broad language of the Directive, at least burdens on financial institutions will be lessened to a certain extent. What distinguishes the NIS2 Directive from the FTC Safeguards Rule is that the Member States are given 21 months to transpose to their national legislative framework. This time offers more flexibility as compared to the extension of the FTC Safeguards Rule. As the Directive passes through the legislative framework, more time will be allowed for financial institutions to prepare and respond to the proposed changes.
In summary, data privacy laws are tightening up globally, and the United States should look to and learn from the successes and failures of the EU’s Directive as both countries’ are attempting to do regulate a similar industry. That being said, regardless of the EU, financial institutions in the United States must begin paying attention to and complying with the FTC Safeguards Rule. Though the outcome of the Rule is uncertain, the 6-month extension will at least offer a certain degree of flexibility.
https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/11/ftc-extends-deadline-six-months-compliance-some-changes-financial-data-security-rule; 16 CFR 314.
 Concurring Statement of Commissioner Christine S. Wilson, Regarding Delaying the Effective Date of Certain Provisions of the Recently Amended Safeguards Rule (Nov 2022).