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DataSecurityLaw.com is the firm’s resource for the latest news, analysis, and thought leadership in the critical area of privacy and cybersecurity law. Patterson Belknap’s Privacy and Data Security practice provides public and private enterprises, their leadership teams and boards with comprehensive services in this critical area. Our team of experienced litigators, corporate advisors and former federal and state prosecutors advises on a broad range of privacy and data protection matters including cyber preparedness and compliance, data breach response, special board and committee representation, internal investigations, and litigation.

Ransomware’s Exponential Growth Echoes the History of Hijackings

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we have focused on the significant uptick in ransomware attacks.  Government agencies such as OFAC, CISA, and New York’s DFS have updated their guidance on how to prepare for and respond to such attacks and provided tools to help stop ransomware attacks.  Cybersecurity also continues to be a major focus of private enterprise.  Despite businesses and government agencies’ increased attention to ransomware, however, 2021 is shaping up to be the most profitable year for data-nappers yet.  In fact, according to a recent report by OFAC, ransomware payments in 2021 are on track to exceed the total amount paid over the previous ten years combined

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OFAC Ransomware Guidance: Prepare, Report, and (Preferably) Don’t Pay the Ransom!

As we have previously reported, there has been a major uptick over the past few years—and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic—in ransomware attacks. These attacks consist of an intrusion by a cybercriminal into the victim’s computers or network, followed by deployment of malware that encrypts the victim’s files, preventing access until a payment is made.  More recently, these ransomware attacks also include exfiltration of data as a way to generate even more leverage over the victim.  The incentives for victims of ransomware attacks to pay the ransom are substantial:  the need to stop the attack, regain access to their data, restore business functions, and ensure that any stolen data is destroyed and not sold or exploited by bad actors make these attacks existential events.  On the other hand, making these ransomware payments brings its own risks.  This includes substantial regulatory risk as those payments may run afoul of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (“OFAC”) guidance—since the payments may be made to parties who are on OFAC’s black list.  Although there have not yet been any OFAC enforcement actions against those who have made ransomware payments, companies should be aware of the risk of going forward with a ransom payment.

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SEC Continues Pursuit of Cybersecurity Enforcement

Last month, we wrote about three actions taken by the SEC signaling a renewed interest in cybersecurity disclosure enforcement.  In keeping with this theme, the SEC announced a number of significant new cybersecurity actions just last week.  On August 30, the SEC disclosed enforcement actions against eight brokerage firms for failing to implement adequate cybersecurity policies and procedures, as required by the SEC’s “Safeguards Rule.”  All eight firms agreed to settle with the SEC and will collectively pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.  These most recent actions underscore that companies should be mindful of whether their cybersecurity policies and procedures comply with SEC requirements and expectations.

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Another Court Says Data Breach Investigation Report Is Fair Game

In a recent ruling with important consequences for data breach litigation, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled that Rutter’s—a Pennsylvania convenience store chain that suffered a data breach—must disclose the investigative report it commissioned from a third-party after the breach. This is a recurring issue in data breach litigation and one that has far-reaching implications for how companies respond to data breaches or other security incidents.  This is also the latest entry in an evolving, and not entirely consistent, line of cases that are broadly chipping away at the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine protections companies argue should apply to their investigative reports.

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Supreme Court Clarifies Standing Requirements – Implications for Class Action Defendants in Data Security, Privacy, and False Advertising Cases

On June 25, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that Article III prohibits certification of a class and a damages award where the majority of class members lack actual injury.  In TransUnion v. Ramirez, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously concluded that a class of over 8,000 individuals who could prove violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act—and had actually proved them at trial—had standing to pursue damages at trial, even if they had not demonstrated that they had suffered concrete harm.  The Ninth Circuit reasoned that violations placed the class members at sufficient risk of harm to confer standing.  The Supreme Court reversed, and in so doing, reinforced its earlier holdings that Article III compels each plaintiff to show concrete harm.

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SEC Signals Renewed Interest in Cybersecurity Disclosure Enforcement

The SEC is ramping up its cybersecurity disclosure enforcement.  While the agency had made significant efforts relating to cybersecurity disclosure previously, there has been surprisingly little SEC activity in this area since 2018—even though the last three years has seen an explosion of high-profile data security incidents.  That changed in June of this year, however, with the SEC taking three major actions that demonstrate a renewed interest in such enforcement.  First, the SEC announced its intention to issue a new rule regulating cybersecurity risk governance disclosure.  Second, it announced its first charges and settlement for cybersecurity disclosure violations since 2018.  And third, it revealed a significant cybersecurity disclosure investigation relating to the recent SolarWinds supply-chain attack.  In light of these developments, now would be a good time for issuers and registered entities to review the SEC’s expectations for cybersecurity disclosure, and implement any necessary changes to their respective policies and procedures, and disclosure practices.

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Are You Ready for Ransomware? CISA Launches New “Stop Ransomware” Website Aimed at Testing Your Cybersecurity Preparedness

The federal government has been grappling with a holistic response to the massive uptick in destructive ransomware attacks that have bombarded the country in recent years.  As part of that response, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently launched a “Stop Ransomware” website, which is aimed at helping private and public entities test and improve their cybersecurity.  Among other key features of this effort is a self-assessment tool allowing organizations to test their cybersecurity based on government and industry recommendations and standards.  This is a potentially useful addition to any organization’s cyber preparedness toolkit.  They may also become another benchmark against which the “reasonablenessof any company’s data security protections are measured when facing private claims or regulatory scrutiny after a ransomware attack.

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Taking the Ransom Out of Ransomware? Debate on Ransomware Payments Picks Up

The price tags of several high-profile ransomware attacks have made headlines over the past couple of months.  Colonial Pipeline, which supplies roughly 45% of the fuel for the East Coast, paid a $4.4 million ransom to hackers (though the FBI reportedly recovered some $2.3 million of it back).  JBS USA, a major meat processing company, paid $11 million.  With hackers making millions of dollars through single attacks, a debate has arisen about what to do, if anything, about ransomware payments.  Some have proposed banning them outright, taking issue with the incentive structure such payments appear to create, while others warn about the negative and unintended consequences an outright ban could have, especially for the victims of an attack. 

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New York DFS Announces Settlement With Insurance Company Under Cybersecurity Regulation

On April 14, 2021, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) announced a cybersecurity settlement with insurance company National Securities Corporation, which suffered four separate breaches, two of which went unreported in violation of 23 NYCRR § 500.17(a). The settlement not only includes a monetary penalty but also mandates increased training and implementation of security tools, and underscores the urgency of addressing cybersecurity threats and DFS’s increasing enforcement activity for non-compliance with its cyber regulations.

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New York Gets Ready to Jump on the Biometric Bandwagon

Companies that do business in New York or with New Yorkers could soon face an onslaught of biometric privacy-related litigation, courtesy of New York Assembly Bill 27, the Biometric Privacy Act (“BPA”). Currently pending before the legislature, the bill is modeled on Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) and, like that law, would impose a set of rules businesses must follow when collecting biometric information. Critically, the BPA would create a private right of action for those “aggrieved” by violations of the law.

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Recent Developments in the State Data-Privacy Landscape:  Is Federal Involvement the Best Way Forward?

With a dizzying array of state privacy laws on the horizon, the prospect of a federal solution has come into sharp focus.  Rather than a patchwork of regional legislation, a comprehensive national framework would potentially govern the precautions that companies must take when electronically collecting, using and storing customers’ personal information, regardless of where in the country the company—or the consumer—is located.  That is the current situation in the European Union under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and has been for many years.  It might one day be the case in the United States as well, if advocates of omnibus federal data privacy legislation have their way.  

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NIST Publishes Key Practices in Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management

The recent SolarWinds attack alerted the world to the risk of a cyber supply chain attack—an attack through or on your company’s vendors or suppliers. It is increasingly clear that even if you take all the right steps to secure your own computer systems, your company—and your company’s data—is only as secure as the weakest link among your suppliers. This risk includes attacks that might infect your computer systems, as well as the risk that your suppliers’ businesses will be disrupted.

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Supreme Court Mulls Class Action Standing in TransUnion v. Ramirez

On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in TransUnion LLC v. Sergio L. Ramirez, No. 20-297, focusing on whether a class of individuals who experience a risk of harm that never materializes have standing to sue.  Although the case itself does not involve a data breach, the Court’s answer to the standing question could have significant implications for the viability of data breach class action lawsuits moving forward. 

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California Privacy Rights Act: The Five Biggest Changes You Need to Know Now

Last November, California voters approved Proposition 24, enacting the California Privacy Rights Act (“CPRA”). The CPRA amends the California Consumer Protection Act (“CCPA”), which was already the most sweeping consumer data protection law in the U.S. Wondering what you should know about California’s new Privacy Rights Act? We dug into the new law and identified the five biggest changes.

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Forensic Analysis and Privilege in the Wake of a Data Breach

In the wake of a data breach, counsel will often require the assistance of a forensic firm in order to provide legal advice to their client.  The forensic analysis—which is often memorialized in a report to counsel—is crucial for counsel in understanding what occurred and formulating legal strategy relating to potential litigation and breach notification issues.  For the same reasons, details of those forensic analyses and any related investigative reports are very likely to be the subject of a discovery request from plaintiffs if and when litigation ensues.  Indeed, the requests for such reports are frequently a flashpoint in litigation that can determine the strength or weakness of the plaintiff’s case.  Defendants typically object to producing these reports on the grounds that they fall under the attorney-client privilege and work-product protection.

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New York DFS Fines Mortgage Lender in Cybersecurity Enforcement Action

New York’s Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) announced on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, that an independent mortgage lender, Residential Mortgage Services Inc. (“RMS”), has agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine to the agency in a settlement resulting from violations of its Cybersecurity Regulation. This is just the second enforcement action brought by DFS under the Cybersecurity Regulation, which was the first of its kind nationally.

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Virginia Joins California with Passage of New State Data Privacy Law

On Tuesday, March 2, 2021, Virginia became the second U.S. state to enact a broad data privacy regime after Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA) into law. Virginia follows California, which became the first state to pass a comprehensive data privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), in June 2018. The CCPA became operative January 1, 2020 after several amendments necessary for its implementation, which we previously covered here and here.  (California is set to enact another privacy law entitled the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) - to update the CCPA in November 2020.)  There is also a raft of other state privacy laws in the pipeline, and Virginia’s new law aligns with a trend toward states ratcheting up broadly applicable privacy-related legal obligations.

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Hack of IT Service Provider May Affect Thousands of Private Businesses

On December 13, the software and service provider SolarWinds announced that its Orion software platform had been the target of a sophisticated cyber attack that may have resulted in malicious code being pushed to as many as 18,000 customers.  The SolarWinds software is used by many corporate and not-for-profit entities of all sizes to monitor the health of their IT networks.  Although the details of this breach are still unfolding, based on the information currently available, Orion users who updated their software between March and June of this year are potentially affected.

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New York DFS Announces First Cybersecurity Enforcement Action

The New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) recently initiated its first enforcement action against a company for violating DFS’s first-in-the-nation cybersecurity regulation.  As our readers know, we have written quite a few posts and articles about the regulation.  And as we’ve warned, with the regulation now in full effect, covered companies should expect DFS’s Cybersecurity Division to start cracking down on companies that haven’t complied.

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The Minted Complaint: Another Case Brought Under the CCPA’s Private Right of Action

Well before the California Attorney General’s power to enforce the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) commenced on July 1, 2020, as we have recently reported, private plaintiffs had already jumped into the fray, suing companies like Zoom and Houseparty for alleged violations of the CCPA. We noted that if one of these private lawsuits were to survive a motion to dismiss, it could lead to a substantial increase in class action litigation under the CCPA. Another putative class action under the CCPA that was filed on June 11, 2020 against Minted, Inc.—the popular online stationery, art, and home décor company—joins the growing list of private CCPA lawsuits and adds another wrinkle to this new area of law.

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Magistrate Judge Finds Data Breach Investigation Report Not Privileged

Last week, a magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia held that a breach report prepared by Mandiant (a digital forensics investigator, among other things) in response to the Capital One data breach was not protected by the attorney work product doctrine. 

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COVID-19 Cyber Risks Continue to Grow

As we previously detailed, the coronavirus pandemic has expanded opportunities for nefarious actors to exploit the digital vulnerabilities of individuals, local governments, industries, organizations, and essential services as they rapidly adapt to the public health crisis. Recent reports have confirmed that attacks and cyber scams associated with the pandemic are in fact on the rise.

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New York SHIELD Act in Full Effect During COVID-19 Crisis

On March 21, 2020—just as the COVID-19 crisis began upending our way of life—New York State’s Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security (SHIELD) Act went into effect fully.  The SHIELD Act, which amends New York’s 2005 breach notification law to “keep pace with current technology,” was signed into law on July 25, 2019 by Governor Andrew Cuomo.  The first phase of the Act went into effect in October 2019, and its second phase took effect last month.

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COVID-19 Cybersecurity Threats Spiral as Businesses Implement Prophylactic Security Measures

As businesses increasingly shift to remote working environments, the COVID-19 public health pandemic presents new cybersecurity challenges each day.  As we discussed in our earlier post, hackers are actively targeting companies’ cloud-based remote connectivity, lack of multi-factor authentication, and potentially insecure digital infrastructure to exploit lax cyber-hygiene.  As companies struggle to maintain business continuity, the need for robust cyber security measures is more pressing than ever.

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Consumer Reports Opposes Efforts to Delay CCPA Enforcement Due to COVID-19

Businesses, consumers, and regulators continue to grapple with balancing privacy, cybersecurity, and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, this blog explored the increased cyber risks that the pandemic poses to businesses, providing guidance on how businesses can navigate that risk. Yesterday, we reported on a joint letter filed by more than 30 industry groups to the California Attorney General (“AG”) requesting a delay in enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) due to the burdens that COVID-19 is placing on businesses. Enforcement of the CCPA is currently scheduled to commence as early as July 1, 2020. Earlier this week, Consumer Reports, a consumer advocacy group, urged the AG to reject industry efforts to delay enforcement of the CCPA.

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Industry Groups Request Delay in CCPA Enforcement Due to COVID-19

On March 17, 2020, a group of thirty-two trade associations and two corporations formally requested that the California Attorney General (AG) delay enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) until January 2, 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The trade associations represent leading companies in a wide range of industries, including healthcare and pharmaceuticals, transportation, logistics, advertising, insurance, entertainment, real estate, banking and finance, and technology.

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DFS Extends Cybersecurity Certification Deadline to June 1, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) recently extended by 45 days the deadline for companies to certify compliance with the DFS cybersecurity regulation.  The annual certification is now due on June 1, 2020

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CCPA Update: California AG’s Modified Proposed Regulations

This is the fourth post in our series discussing the practical impact of the California Attorney General’s regulations to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). See our previous CCPA posts here.

The CCPA took effect on January 1, 2020, and already a putative class action has been filed, albeit over a data breach that allegedly occurred before the CCPA’s effective date. In addition, although the statute is now operative, its implementing regulations remain in flux. On February 7, 2020, the California Attorney General (AG) issued a notice of modification to the proposed regulations originally issued in October 2019. And on March 11, 2020, the AG released a second set of modifications. These modifications—published in a clean and redline version—contain important updates clarifying notice requirements, consumer request acceptance and response obligations, service provider responsibilities, and when discrimination related to financial incentives is permissible.

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The SEC Issues Observations on Cybersecurity and Resiliency Measures

Last week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued a list of recommendations for institutions to enhance their cybersecurity preparedness and operational resiliency.  These observations – based upon the examination of thousands of SEC registrants – serve as a lens into the likely subjects of future SEC examinations.

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CCPA Update: Key Proposed Regulations on Verification of Requests & Non-Discrimination

On January 1, 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) becomes operative.  As we reported last month, the California Attorney General (AG) released long-awaited draft regulations to the CCPA. This is the third installment in a series of posts discussing the regulations most relevant to companies as they determine whether they are covered under the law and how to comply.  This post discusses the key regulations on business verification of requests made by consumers and the non-discrimination provision of the CCPA. 

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CCPA Update: Key Proposed Regulations for Business Practices for Handling Consumer Requests

As we recently reported on this blog, the California Attorney General (AG) released long-awaited draft regulations to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). This is the second installment in a series of posts discussing the regulations most relevant to companies as they determine whether they are covered under the law and how to comply. This post discusses business practices for receiving and verifying consumer requests to delete or opt-out, and for disclosure of specific information, referred to in the regulations as “requests to know.”

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CCPA Update: Key Proposed Notice and Privacy Policy Regulations

As we recently reported on this blog, the California Attorney General (AG) released long awaited draft regulations to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The regulations provided clarity on several provisions in the law, while also failing to answer some open questions. In a series of upcoming blog posts, we will discuss the regulations most directly relevant to companies as they determine whether they are covered under the law and how to comply. This first post discusses the notices and privacy policies described in detail in the proposed regulations.

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CCPA Update: California Attorney General Releases Proposed Regulations

On October 11, 2019, the California Attorney General released its long-anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Action and the text of its proposed regulations for the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), along with an Initial Statement of Reasons for the proposed regulations.  The documents are not a short read, with the proposed regulations covering 24 pages, the Notice 16 pages, and the Statement of Reasons another 47 pages. 

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Amendments to the California Consumer Privacy Act: Six Clarifications

As readers of the Data Security Blog will know, the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) becomes operative on January 1, 2020.  The CCPA is the most sweeping consumer privacy law in the United States, covering most for-profit businesses that do business in California and collect the personal information of “consumers,” meaning California residents. 

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SEC’s Proposed Revisions to Regulation S-K Will Minimally Impact Cybersecurity Disclosure Requirements

It has been thirty years since the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) significantly revised Regulation S-K, which sets forth reporting requirements for public companies. The SEC is now taking a fresh look at the rules, proposing for public comment amendments to modernize the description of business, legal proceedings, and risk factor disclosures that public companies must make. This represents a good opportunity to revisit key disclosure requirements—including Items 503(c) (now Item 105), 101, and 103—that are the subject of the revised guidance and that potentially impact reporting obligations associated with cybersecurity.

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Wearable Technology Fits into Professional Sports

Professional athletes, teams, and leagues have embraced wearable technology.  But as this new technology becomes ubiquitous, a new category of valuable—and personally sensitive—data has emerged, raising novel data security issues and incentives for would-be hackers.

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A (Secondary) Education in Data Security

On January 18, 2018, the New York State Education Department (“NYSED”) announced that one of its vendors, Questar Assessment, experienced a data breach resulting in the unauthorized disclosure of personal information from students in five different New York schools. While the data breach reportedly affected only a small number of students that had registered for online testing in spring 2017, it nonetheless exposed sensitive personally identifiable information from those students.  And despite its narrow scope, this breach potentially threatens public (and parent) confidence in the security of sensitive student information at a time when New York schools are moving more and more of their activities online.

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Inside the Stanford Breach: Exposed Records Lead to Financial Aid Scandal

A cybersecurity vulnerability at Stanford University exposed thousands of sensitive files containing details of sexual assault investigations and disciplinary actions. The story of what happened—and why it should be an object lesson for higher education. The second of a three-part series.

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Privilege Waiver: Is Your File-Sharing Site a Public Park Bench?

While courts and the Federal Rules of Evidence take an increasingly pragmatic approach to the question of when inadvertent disclosure of privileged information results in waiver, a recent federal magistrate’s ruling serves as a potent warning that use of a file-sharing site—without sufficient safeguards—may constitute a waiver. Harleysville Insurance Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc., No. 1:15-cv-00057 (W.D. Va. Feb. 9, 2017) is the first published decision to find that the use of a file-sharing site to exchange potentially privileged information constituted a waiver of the attorney-client privilege and work product protection—because the company failed to password protect its transmission.

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Ajit Pai and the FCC’s Role in ISP Privacy Regulation under President Trump

On January 23, 2017, President Donald Trump named Ajit Pai as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  In his previous role as the senior Republican on the FCC under President Barack Obama, Mr. Pai was an outspoken critic of the agency’s decision to assert jurisdiction over Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) and its rules governing broadband privacy.  Pai’s appointment suggests that significant changes may be on the horizon.

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“Life is Short. Have an Affair.” And Then Settle With the FTC.

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced a settlement with the owners of “dating site” AshleyMadison.com, arising from a July 2015 data breach that received broad media coverage.  According to a proposed order filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the operators of the website are also simultaneously settling with thirteen states—including New York—and the District of Columbia.

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Wake-Up Call: Law Firms in the Cybersecurity Crosshairs

Last week marked the first time a U.S. law firm was publicly named in a class action data security lawsuit.  Originally filed in April 2016, the class action complaint in Shore v. Johnson & Bell, Ltd., 16-cv-4363 (N.D. Ill.), was unsealed last week after months of back-and-forth over whether the alleged security flaws had been patched.  The complaint accuses Johnson & Bell, a mid-sized Chicago firm, of “systematically exposing confidential client information and storing client data without adequate security.”  The lawsuit makes no claim that any client information has been stolen or misused.  Even so, the filing of this complaint amplifies the risks already facing law firms – including reputational – at a time when data security is a top concern for law firms and their clients.

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China’s Controversial New Cybersecurity Law

Earlier today, the Chinese government in Beijing approved a sweeping new cybersecurity law aimed at centralizing control over computer networks operating within China’s borders.  An unofficial English translation of the newly-enacted law is available here

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Post-Spokeo Standing: An Evolving Landscape

Several recent federal court decisions have added guidance on the still-unsettled question of when a plaintiff has Article III standing to sue based on a data breach or other data security or privacy event.  These cases—Attias v. CareFirst, Inc. (D.D.C.), Wood v. J. Choo USA, Inc. (S.D. Fla.), and Guarisma v. Microsoft (S.D. Fla.)—offer somewhat mixed guidance for defendants in class action privacy-related lawsuits looking to use a standing challenge as a quick escape.

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Lessons from LinkedIn: Privacy and Data Security Representations in the M&A Context

Microsoft’s blockbuster acquisition of LinkedIn earlier this month—a deal where concerns for privacy and data security loomed large—provides a glimpse into the growing trend of including separate privacy and data security representations in merger and acquisition agreements.  Because the trend is so recent, there is no consensus or standard practice at this point for drafting these representations.  The LinkedIn privacy and data security representation is a good example of the evolving nature of these representations.

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Come Back With a Warrant: Proposed Rule Change Expands the Government’s Ability to Access Electronically Stored Information in Criminal Investigations

On April 28, 2016 the United States Supreme Court proposed a modification to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 that significantly alters the manner in which the government can obtain search warrants to access computer systems and electronically stored information that will no doubt have an effect on hackers and hacking victims alike. The modification will go into effect on December 1, 2016, barring Congressional intervention.

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EU Regulators Decline to Support Privacy Shield Agreement

In the latest twist in the ongoing saga of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield data transfer agreement, EU data protection authorities (commonly known as the Article 29 Working Party) stated on Wednesday that it would not affirm the adequacy of the Privacy Shield deal.

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