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Breach Bumps Privacy Up on the Agenda

December 21, 2020

Virtually everyone in the business community has anticipated that privacy and data security would be extremely important issues in 2021 at the Federal, state, and local levels, and in the regulatory arenas. Nevertheless, it seemed that other issues such as pandemic response, economic recovery, staffing and confirming key positions in the executive and regulatory agencies, and climate control initiatives were likely to be first on the docket in the new year.

However, it seems likely that the recent massive cybersecurity breach of numerous federal agencies and companies will now push privacy, data security and data breach issues to the forefront. President-elect Biden stated that he would not “stand idly by” in the face of cyber-attacks. Biden forcefully emphasized that, “My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office.” We now can expect early action from the new administration.

SolarWinds (a major security company that was breached) estimated, in a filing to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) that as many as 18,000 companies (including companies in the Fortune 500) were affected by this sweeping breach. Consequently, corporate America may also be promoting responses to deter future data invasions. These developments together with Congress’ ongoing interest in privacy, will prompt multiple Congressional hearings early next year on the adequacy of privacy protections, data security, and how to handle and counteract data breaches.

Due to the pandemic and economic downturn, 2021 already was sure to be one of the most complex and contentious times to face advertisers, but these new developments are now certain to accelerate and further heat up the political environment. Clearly, a greater and deeper analysis of cybersecurity and privacy will demonstrate that fragmented, inconsistent state-by-state regulation will be highly inefficient and counterproductive. This certainly will lead to increased calls for a national consistent privacy law, as the Washington Post did in its recent editorial “Congress agrees data privacy is a problem. So where is the bill?” Such calls are only going to get louder. Therefore, everyone should enjoy a very healthy and happy Holiday Season but start buckling up for a bumpy and significant start to the new year.

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