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Privacy Issues in the News - 4/7/2009

Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC’s Privacy Team is a multidisciplinary group formed to assist clients in understanding and complying with the increasing number of privacy and security laws and regulations being passed by state and federal government. Members from Greenebaum’s Privacy Team bring knowledge from a broad range of practice areas including health care, insurance, employee benefits, labor, intellectual property, information technology, corporate, banking and finance, and education.

The following is a summary of recent privacy issues in the news. If you have questions regarding privacy law issues, please contact us.

Resale of Office Equipment May Lead to Breach – A recent transaction at a Staples in Canada – the retailer sold a returned computer hard drive on clearance – has exposed that company to potential liability under Canadian privacy laws. The hard drive contained hundreds of files belonging to the original owner, who had returned the item when one of the functions was not operating properly. While Staples owned the returned hard drive, it did not have the right to resell private information (which also violated its own procedures requiring all items with memory to be wiped before resale). In an economic downturn, more companies will be looking to sell equipment as they downsize or close. It is imperative to ensure that no personal information moves with that equipment, to avoid liability under state and federal law.

Cloud Computing Too Risky for Some Business Purposes? – The use of web-based applications and storage (cloud computing) has increased as individuals and businesses are drawn to the convenience of having software and documents on remote servers instead of on their hard drives. But the information that is processed and stored in the clouds is probably far less secure. Online security experts suggest that the vulnerabilities come from hackers, from user carelessness and from the possibility that the companies storing the data may go out of business. While the risk is more serious if the information is particularly sensitive (e.g., health and tax records), even the storage of far less sensitive information raises privacy concerns, as the control of vast amounts of information is concentrated in the hands of a few companies. If your company is using web-based software applications or storing information on remote servers you do not own and control, consider and plan for the risk of loss or theft of personal data or sensitive company information.

59% of Departing Employees Stole Company Data – A recent Ponemon Institute survey showed that nearly six in ten workers who were laid off or fired or who changed jobs last year took proprietary information on their way out. The high number is caused in part by concentrating security efforts on protecting storage containers against outsiders (firewalls, access controls, physical security) rather than protecting data against malicious insiders. Keeping hackers and other thieves out of the system is important, but it isn’t enough. Experts expect insider attacks to rise, so tighten up your company’s employee exit protocol to ensure that departing employees understand their obligations.

New Internet Companies Sell Info About Your Online Behavior – BlueKai and eXelate Media are two new companies tapping into the growing market for information about web visitors and online behavior. Both companies operate by selling cookies (small bits of code) that have captured information about specific searches; the cookie buyers (marketers) can then target ads to users based on what the users are interested in. Unlike many other behavioral marketing ventures, however, these two companies provide consumers with knowledge and control over what is collected and sold to the marketers, and so they are far less likely to be challenged by privacy advocates or the FTC. As the market for online behavioral data increases, it is more important than ever to work with reputable companies that are taking appropriate steps to protect your customers from invisible threats to their privacy.

Court Rules that Google Street View Program Does Not Invade Privacy – The District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has ruled that, because both the tort of intrusion upon seclusion and the tort of public disclosure of private facts require that the defendant’s action be substantial and be highly offensive to a reasonable person, Google’s Street View program does not invade plaintiff homeowner’s privacy. Although they alleged that they found the intrusion substantial and highly offensive, plaintiffs had taken no steps to protect their privacy or prevent the public from viewing their home, or even asked Google to remove their street from view on the site (which publishes photographs of homeowners’ property taken from a public place).


Even though the content of the above Greenebaum Doll & McDonald e-bulletin is primarily informative, state and federal law obligates us to inform you that this is an advertisement. You have received this advisory because you are a client or friend of the firm.

About Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC
Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC is a widely-respected business law firm with approximately 200 legal professionals in six offices, serving local, national and international clients in virtually every industry. A forward-thinking business law firm, Greenebaum is committed to the practice of Breakthrough Law®.

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