peer-to-peer

ALJ Rules Against FTC in LabMD Data Security Action: Sets High Bar for Proving Consumer Harm

Posted by J. Nicole Martin on November 20, 2015
Federal Trade Commission, FTC, HIPAA / No Comments

shutterstock_157454741Last June we wrote about the FTC’s enforcement action against LabMD, a medical testing laboratory, which was forced to wind down its business because of the costs associated with challenging the FTC since 2013. Using its broad enforcement authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act, the FTC alleged that LabMD failed to “provide reasonable and appropriate security for personal information on its computer networks,” which the FTC claimed lead to the data of thousands of consumers being leaked.

On November 13, 2015, Chief Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell ruled in favor of LabMD, dismissing the FTC’s complaint because the FTC “fail[ed] to prove that [LabMD’s] alleged unreasonable data security caused, or is likely to cause, substantial consumer injury, as required by Section 5(n) of the FTC Act, [LabMD’s] alleged unreasonable data security cannot properly be declared an unfair act or practice in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act.” Notably, Judge Chappell concluded that Continue reading…

J. Nicole Martin

Nicole assists accountable care organizations, health care systems, long term care providers (e.g., skilled nursing facilities, continuing care retirement communities), behavioral and mental health providers, medical device manufacturers, physician practices, and pharmacies with their compliance, regulatory, and transactional needs. Nicole’s practice includes providing clients with counsel regarding telehealth laws, HIPAA/HITECH and state privacy and security laws, data breaches, business associate and covered entity obligations, licensure laws, Medicare, Medicaid and third-party payer matters, medical staff issues, and fraud and abuse laws.

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Enforcement Action – FTC Is Not Backing Down and Laboratory Company Goes After a Cyber-Intelligence Company

Posted by Ryan Blaney on June 10, 2014
FTC, HIPAA / No Comments

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is not the only government arm that enforces data breaches. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has broad authority to regulate the security of consumer information and hold companies liable for a failure to use adequate data security practices. In August 2013, the FTC targeted LabMD, a medical testing laboratory, which maintains personal financial and health information for nearly one million consumers. The FTC alleged that LabMD failed to “provide reasonable and appropriate security for personal information on its computer networks,” which resulted in the data of thousands of consumers being leaked on to the peer-to-peer file-sharing network LimeWire, the black-market and in the hands of illegal data brokers.

Until recently the FTC enforced its breach authority under the Act without pushback, so a company facing allegations would simply settle. However, LabMD became the second company to challenge the FTC’s enforcement of data breaches (a hotel chain company was the first to challenge the FTC’s authority). LabMD attempted to stop the investigation by filing appeals to federal district and appellate courts and the FTC. The appeals were based primarily on two arguments: (i) the FTC does not have the statutory authority to set data security standards for companies; and (ii) LabMD is already subject to the OCR’s enforcement authority under HIPAA’s security regulations, so it should not also be subject to the FTC’s enforcement authority.

Despite LabMD’s best efforts, two Eleventh Circuit judges refused to intervene before the FTC issued its final order, the FTC rejected LabMD’s motion to dismiss and it moved forward with the administrative proceedings. However, LabMD continues to fightback. Recently, LabMD filed a motion to dismiss with the FTC, and contended that the FTC had not proven that the data breach caused injury, specifically, that it did not present evidence that there was substantial harm or likely to be substantial harm to consumers as a result of the breach.

During trial, Michael Daugherty, CEO of LabMD, testified that the effect of the FTC’s allegations and subsequent probe has placed the company in a “very deep coma” and that he “can’t understate how damaging and confusing and sideswiping [the matter is] to the attitude, energy and morale of [LabMD’s] management staff.”

Interestingly, the trial has been on recess since May 30 when the administrative law judge delayed the proceeding until June 12 in response to an announcement that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was investigating Tiversa Inc., the cyber-intelligence firm that played a central role in the FTC’s case against LabMD. In a separate lawsuit, LabMD is alleging that Tiversa provided the FTC with patient information files that it stole from LabMD.

When trial resumes on June 12, the focus will continue to be on whether LabMD’s data security standards that it used to protect consumers’ personal information were reasonable. It will be interesting whether developments from the Tiversa investigation impact the outcome of the trial. For more information about this proceeding go to the FTC website.

Practice Tip: Ensure that your security policies and procedures are being implemented and followed in accordance with HIPAA security requirements because inadequate security safeguards may lead to enforcement actions by the OCR and the FTC.

Ryan Blaney

Ryan represents health care and life sciences clients in a wide range of litigation, regulatory, and transactional matters, but has particular experience in the areas of privacy law compliance and health care fraud litigation. In his regulatory and transactional practice, Ryan serves public and private health care companies, academic medical centers, health systems, hospitals and physician organizations, manufacturers, medical devices, information technology and health plans

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