New Data Disposal Law in Delaware Requires Action by Impacted Businesses

While the federal government continues its inaction on data security bills pending in Congress, some U.S. states have been busy at work on this issue over the summer.  A new Delaware law H.B. 295, signed into law on July 1, 2014 and effective January 1, 2015, provides for a private right of action in which a court may order up to triple damages in the event a business improperly destroys personal identifying information at the end of its life cycle.  In addition to this private right of action, the Delaware Attorney General may file suit or bring an administrative enforcement proceeding against the offending business if it is in the public interest.

Under the law, personal identifying information is defined as:

A consumer’s first name or first initial and last name in combination with any one of the following data elements that relate to the consumer, when either the name or the data elements are not encrypted:

  • his or her signature,
  • full date of birth,
  • social security number,
  • passport number, driver’s license or state identification card number,
  • insurance policy number,
  • financial services account number, bank account number,
  • credit card number, debit card number,
  • any other financial information or
  • confidential health care information including all information relating to a patient’s health care history, diagnosis condition, treatment or evaluation obtained from a health care provider who has treated the patient, which explicitly or by implication identifies a particular patient.

Interestingly, this new law exempts from its coverage:  banks and financial institutions that are merely subject to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, but the law only exempts health insurers and health care facilities if they are subject to and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as credit reporting agencies if they are subject to and in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Given how broadly the HIPAA and FCRA exemptions are drafted, we expect plaintiffs’ attorneys to argue for the private right of action and triple damages in every case where a HIPAA- or FCRA-covered entity fails to properly dispose of personal identifying information, arguing that such failure evidences noncompliance with HIPAA or FCRA, thus canceling the exemption.   Note, however, that some courts have refused to allow state law claims of improper data disposal to proceed where they were preempted by federal law.  See, e.g., Willey v. JP Morgan Chase, Case No. 09-1397, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57826 (S.D.N.Y. July 7, 2009) (dismissing individual and class claims alleging improper data disposal based on state law, finding they were pre-empted by the FCRA).

The takeaway?  Companies that collect, receive, store or transmit personal identifying information of residents of the state of Delaware (or any of the 30+ states in the U.S. that now have data disposal laws on the books) should examine their data disposal policies and practices to ensure compliance with these legal requirements.  In the event a business is alleged to have violated one of these state data disposal laws, it should consider all available defenses, including the potential for a preemption argument.

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