2018 Virginia General Assembly Wrap-Up: Modest Privacy-Related Bills Adopted

by McGuireWoods LLP
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The 2018 Regular Session of the Virginia General Assembly recently concluded after considering approximately 3700 bills and resolutions during the 60-day session. Several privacy-related bills were on the legislative agenda, but few were enacted into law.

Tax Return Data

As highlighted in January, the General Assembly this year continued its efforts to address the growing problem of criminals filing fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities of unsuspecting taxpayers. Last year, Virginia adopted legislation that requires employers and payroll service providers to provide breach notification to the Attorney General of Virginia when those entities experience an unauthorized access or acquisition of unredacted and unencrypted data containing a taxpayer’s identification number and certain payroll information. Virginia Code Ann. § 18.2-186.6(M).

This year, Virginia enacted legislation aimed at imposing certain obligations on state tax return preparers. Tax return preparers are not required to comply with Virginia’s data breach notification statute. However, effective July 1, 2018, Virginia tax return preparers are required to notify the Virginia Department of Taxation:

“without unreasonable delay after the discovery or notification of unauthorized access and acquisition of unencrypted and unredacted return information that compromises the confidentiality of such information maintained by such signing income tax return preparer and that creates a reasonable belief that an [unprotected] version of such information was accessed and acquired by an unauthorized person and that causes, or such preparer reasonably believes has caused or will cause, identity theft or other fraud.” Acts of Assembly, Chapter 283

Additionally, if a breach occurs, the state tax return preparer is required to provide the Department information concerning the taxpayers whose information was accessed or obtained by unauthorized persons and certain information about the preparer.  It is estimated that the enactment of this legislation will save Virginia approximately $300,000 by avoiding the issuance of unrecoverable fraudulent refunds.

Other Privacy-Related Legislation

Additional bills related to privacy include (partial listing):

  • PASSED: Clarifying that certain student directory information held by institutions of higher education may only be released in limited circumstances in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. HB1
  • PASSED: Reduction in the amount a credit reporting agency may charge a consumer to place a security freeze on his credit report from $10 to $5. 1027 SB16
  • DEFEATED: Eliminating the ability of a credit reporting agency to charge a consumer a fee to place a security freeze on the consumer’s credit report. HB6; HB86; HB1232; SB18; SB22; (partial listing)
  • DEFEATED: Prohibiting companies providing broadband internet access services in the Commonwealth from blocking, throttling, engaging in paid prioritization and interfering or unreasonably disadvantaging a users’ ability to access broadband internet access. The bill also would have limited a broadband service providers’ disclosure of personally identifiable information about consumers to circumstances involving certain court orders, subpoenas or for authorized law-enforcement activities. SB948
  • DEFEATED: Limiting state contracts for internet access services only to those services providers that agree to protect certain personally identifiable information and adhere to certain internet neutrality provisions. Proposed to prohibit internet access service providers that provide such service to a public body from blocking, throttling or providing preference to entities that pay for the optimization of data transfer rates. Additionally, the bill proposed to prohibit such service providers from knowingly disclosing personally identifiable information about users unless such disclosure is pursuant to certain court orders, subpoenas or for authorized law-enforcement activities. SB949
  • DEFEATED: Requiring consumer reporting agencies to disclose within 15 days a breach of the security of a computerized data system, when such disclosure is required by Virginia’s data breach notification statute, § 18.2-186.6. The bill provides that failure to report is a violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. HB1588
  • DEFEATED: Prohibiting state agency employment applications, under certain circumstances, from inquiring whether a prospective employee has been arrested or charged with, or convicted, of any crime (a.k.a. “ban-the-box”). SB252; HB1357
  • DEFEATED: Prohibiting a prospective employer (i) from requiring a prospective employee to disclose his wage or salary history or (ii) attempting to obtain such information from the person’s current or previous employers. HB240
  • DEFEATED: Allowing the use of drones by law-enforcement without obtaining a warrant under certain circumstances. HB1290
  • DEFEATED: Prohibiting a provider of electronic communication or remote computing service from disclosing location data to an investigative or law-enforcement officer except pursuant to a search warrant. HB604
  • DEFEATED: Directing a legislative commission to study how local governments report data breaches, identify ways to promote efficient and timely reporting of such breaches by local governments and to develop best practices to assist localities with cyber security. HJ39

Virginia’s approach on privacy issues this past session reflects its approach on most issues – a measured response in response to actual problems. This approach is in contrast to some states enacting policies in anticipation of future issues or without a solid indication of potential harm to consumers. In the case of the security freeze legislation, the enacted bill was in response to a significant data breach last year involving one of the big three credit reporting agencies. With regard to protecting certain student directory information, the General Assembly acted in response to the perceived misuse of such information by political campaigns. Finally, the legislature continued its efforts to address the continuing problem of tax fraud by attempting to cut off avenues for would be identity thieves to file false state income tax returns.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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