On October 27, 2023, the FTC approved an amendment to the Safeguards Rule (the “Amendment”) requiring that non-banking financial institutions notify the FTC in the event of a defined “Notification Event” where customer information of 500 or more individuals was subject to unauthorized acquisition. The Amendment becomes effective 180 days after publication in the Federal Register. Importantly, the amendment requires notification only to the Commission – which will post the information publicly – and not to the potentially impacted individuals.
Financial institutions subject to the Safeguards Rule are those not otherwise subject to enforcement by another financial regulator under Section 505 of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, 15 U.S.C. 6805 (“GLBA”). The Safeguards Rule within the FTC’s jurisdiction include mortgage brokers, “payday” lenders, auto dealers, non-bank lenders, credit counselors and other financial advisors and collection agencies, among others. The FTC made clear that one primary reason for adopting these new breach notification requirements is so the FTC could monitor emerging data security threats affecting non-banking financial institutions and facilitate prompt investigations following major security breaches – yet another clear indication the FTC intends to continue focusing on cybersecurity and breach notification procedures.
Notification to the FTC
Under the Amendment, notification to the FTC is required upon a “Notification Event,” which is defined as the acquisition of unencrypted customer information without authorization that involves at least 500 consumers. As a new twist, the Amendment specifies that unauthorized acquisition will be presumed to include unauthorized access to unencrypted customer information, unless the financial institution has evidence that the unauthorized party only accessed, but did not acquire the information. The presumption of unauthorized acquisition based on unauthorized access is consistent with the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule and HIPAA, but not state data breach notification laws or the GLBA’s Interagency Guidelines Establishing Information Security Standards (“Interagency Guidelines”).
As mentioned above, individual notification requirements for non-banking financial institutions will continue to be governed by state data breach notification statutes and are not otherwise included in the Amendment. The inclusion of a federal regulatory notification requirement and not an individual notification requirement in the Amendment is a key departure from other federal financial regulators, as articulated in the Interagency Guidelines which applies to banking financial institutions, and the SEC’s proposed rules that would require individual and regulatory reporting by registered investment advisers and broker-dealers.
Expansive Definition of Triggering Customer Information
Again departing from pre-existing notification triggers of “sensitive customer information” in the Interagency Guidelines or “personal information” under state data breach reporting laws, the FTC’s rule requires notification to the Commission if “customer information” is subject to unauthorized acquisition. “Customer information” is defined as “non-public personal information,” (see 16 C.F.R. 314.2(d)) which is further defined to be “personally identifiable financial information” (see 16 C.F.R. 314.2(n)).
Under the FTC’s rule, “personally identifiable financial information” is broadly defined to be (i) information provided by a consumer to obtain a service or product from the reporting entity; (ii) information obtained about a consumer resulting from any transaction involving a financial product or service from the non-banking financial institution; or (iii) information the non-banking financial institution obtains about a consumer in connection with providing a financial product or service to the consumer. Unlike the Interagency Guidelines which defines “sensitive customer information” as a specific subset of data elements (“customer’s name, address, or telephone number, in conjunction with the customer’s social security number, driver’s license number, account number, credit or debit card number, or a personal identification number or password that would permit access to the customer’s account”) (see 12 CFR Appendix F to Part 225 (III)(A)(1)), the FTC’s definition of “personally identifiable financial information” is much broader.
For example, “personally identifiable financial information” could include information a consumer provides on a loan or credit card application, account balance information, overdraft history, the fact that an individual has been one of your customers, and any information collected through a cookie. As a result of this broad definition, notification obligations may be triggered for a wider variety of data events, as compared to data breach notifications for banking financial institutions under the Interagency Guidelines or state data breach notification laws. As a result, non-banking financial institutions should consider reviewing and revising their incident response procedures so that they can be prepared to conduct a separate analysis of FTC notification requirements under the Amendment, as distinct from state law notification requirements.
No Risk of Harm Provision
Although the FTC considered whether to include a “risk of harm” standard for notifying the Commission, it ultimately decided against including one to avoid any ambiguity or the potential for non-banking financial institutions to underestimate the likelihood of misuse. However, numerous state data breach reporting statutes contain risk of harm provisions that excuse notice to individuals and/or state regulators where the unauthorized acquisition and/or access of personal information is unlikely to cause substantial harm (such as fraud or identify theft) to the individual. This divergence between FTC notifications and state law has set the stage for the possibility that a reporting non-banking financial institution could be required to report to the FTC, but not to potentially affected individuals and/or state attorneys general pursuant to state law.
Timing and Content for Notice to FTC
Non-banking financial institutions must notify the Commission as soon as possible, and no later than 30 days after discovery of the Notification Event. Discovery of the event is deemed to be the “first day on which such event is known…to any person other than the person committing the breach, who is [the reporting entity’s] employee, officer, or other agent.” The FTC’s timeline is similar to the timeline dictated for notifying state Attorney Generals under most state data breach notification laws (either explicitly or implicitly), but a key difference from the Interagency Guidelines, which requires notification to the bank’s primary federal regulator as soon as possible.
The notification must be submitted electronically on a form located on the FTC’s website (https://www.ftc.gov), and include the following information, which will be available to the public: (i) the name and contact information of the reporting financial institution, (ii) a description of the types of information involved in the Notification Event, (iii) the date or date range of the Notification Event (if available), (iv) the number of consumers affected or potentially affected; (v) a general description of the Notification Event; and (vi) whether law enforcement official (including the official’s contact information) has provided a written determination that notifying the public of the breach would impede a criminal investigation or cause damage to national security. Making this type of information regarding a data security incident available to the public is not part of any current U.S. regulatory notification structure.
Law Enforcement Delays Public Disclosure by FTC, Not FTC Reporting
A law enforcement delay may preclude public posting of the Notification Event by the FTC for up to 30 days but does not excuse timely notification to the FTC. A law enforcement official may seek another 60 days’ extension, which the Commission may grant if it determines that public disclosure of the Notification Event “continues to impede a criminal investigation or cause damage to national security.”