Introduction

On June 10, 2021, China officially passed China’s first Data Security Law, which will take effect on September 1, 2021. Following the introduction of the Data Security Law, together with the Cybersecurity Law, which has been implemented since June 1, 2017, and the Personal Information Protection Law, which is undergoing public comment for its second draft released on April 29, 2021, data compliance is becoming increasingly important and complicated for companies operating business in China or with data originating from China.

Background

Before the enactment of the Cybersecurity Law in 2016, China didn’t have any dedicated national legislation on data security, and the duty of protecting data was mainly left to companies that collect and/or use data to implement voluntary protection schemes. The 2016 Cybersecurity Law encompassed the issue of cyber data management and security, but other types of data remain unregulated. The Data Security Law filled up the gap by addressing all types of data (including both electronic and non-electronic data) and covering the full cycle of data activities.

Scope of governance

Under the 2016 Cybersecurity Law, all the network owners, managers, and service providers (the “Network Operators”) are required to implement measures to safeguard network security and integrity, and ensure contents published on the network are legal and appropriate. Although technically speaking every enterprise providing services or operating business through a computer network would fall within the definition of Network Operator, based on the reported enforcement cases since 2017, website and mobile application operators were the primary targets of the crackdowns.

By contrast, the Data Security Law has a much wider jurisdiction. Firstly, unlike the 2016 Cybersecurity Law, which only governs cyber data, the scope of Data Security Law also covers non-electronic data. Secondly, although both laws imposed long-arm jurisdiction over illegal overseas activities, the sanctions under the 2016 Cybersecurity Law are limited to exportation of personal and core data originated from China, importation of illegal data from overseas, and activities severely undermining China’s core information infrastructure facilities, whereas any overseas data processing activity that jeopardizes China’s national security, public interest, or lawful rights of any person or entities are considered illegal under the Data Security Law. Obviously, the Data Security Law is taking a catch-all approach to provide a very broad grounds for future legal enforcement.

Points to note

Data classification system

From the fact that the term “national security” is mentioned 14 times in a law comprised of only 55 provisions, it is quite clear that enhancement of national security is a very big driver behind the promulgation of the Data Security Law, if not the most important one. Pursuant to the Data Security Law, the Chinese government will for the first time establish a centralized classification system by the level of importance of the data. Data that are pertinent to national security, national economy, social welfare, and important public interests will be regarded as core data, and will be subject to stricter scrutiny. In the near future, the Chinese government will publish national, regional, and departmental catalogues with classification guidance for the ease of reinforcing supervision on core data processing activities.

Data security monitoring system

As required by the Data Security Law, all data processors will be required to establish a data security policy and risk monitoring system. Processors of core data are required to report their data protection practice to the government on periodic basis, and processors of non-core data are required to report to the government in event of security failure. Companies who fail to protect their data and cause large scale data leakage may face a fine of up to RMB2 million and risk suspension or closure of business. If the violation concerns core data in jeopardy of China’s national interests, the fine may be up to RMB10 million.

Data exportation

The exportation of core cyber data will continue to be governed by the 2016 Cybersecurity Law, whereas China will introduce the new regime regarding exportation of other data. One of the most notable implications on such data exportation restriction is its counteracting effect against the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (the “CLOUD Act”) promulgated by former US President Donald Trump in 2018. The CLOUD Act enables US law enforcement agencies to demand access to electronic data no matter which country the data is stored in. However, under the 2016 Cybersecurity Law, exportation of personal data and important data stored in core information infrastructure facilities in China are subject to safety review. This measure has been endorsed by the Data Security Law, which further provides that companies who failed to comply with this requirement may be fined up to RMB10 million and risk suspension or closure of business. The Data Security Law also allows countermeasures to be taken in response to any discriminatory measures against China’s data or data development related investment or trade adopted by foreign countries or regions.

Observation

So far, the Data Security Law has only set out a skeleton for the governance of data. The meaning of some important concepts remain unclear. For instance, the concept of “public interests” in the Data Security Law is widely used across various Chinese legislations, but there is neither specific definition for it within the Data Security Law itself, nor has the legislator published any guidance providing clarification. Further, it is unclear which governmental authority should be responsible for enforcement. Based on the latest enforcement case report, a large-scale violation of citizens’ information privacy by certain Chinese local companies operating mobile phone apps was sanctioned by a joint group consisting of The Public Security Bureau,  Cyberspace Administration  Office, and Communication Administration Bureau for “jeopardizing public interests.”  However, it is worth noting that the concept of “public interest” is going to be a bit different in the US than in China. Generally speaking, public interest in the US is limited to activities like public health (think pandemic response) or rule of law (think law enforcement). This is a much narrower concept than in other places in the world. As such, it will be prudent to see what the Chinese officials do with their approach to defining “public interest.”

While waiting for further implementation rules, enterprises with data originated from China should start assessing their exposure to risk of data leaks, unauthorized data exportation, and other violations in this new compliance environment, and seek professional advice.

On April 29, 2021, the national legislator in China released the second draft of the Personal Information Protection Law (“PIPL”) to collect public comments until May 28, 2021. The updated draft substantially follows the framework of the first draft, which marks China’s comprehensive system for the protection of personal information, sets forth general rules for the processing and transferring of personal information across China’s borders, and echoes certain mechanisms under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), including application of extraterritorial jurisdiction, with which China would use long-arm jurisdiction to regulate the concerned entities across borders. This approach reflects China’s position that privacy law is an important component of China’s long term strategy on the international stage. In fact, the PIPL expressly contemplates China’s engagement with other jurisdictions (at both the country and regional levels) to try to create “interoperability” with these other privacy systems. Below we summarize key terms of the updated draft PIPL. Continue Reading China Released Second Draft of Personal Information Protection Law

In a long awaited decision, the European Commission (“Commission’) adopted two new sets of standard contractual clauses (“SCCs”) to reflect the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (“EU GDPR”) and ‘the realities faced by modern business’ (see the Commission’s press release). These replace the current SCCs that were adopted over 10 years ago under the, now repealed, Data Protection Directive. The EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, cited the SCCs as providing companies with ‘more safety and legal certainty’ and as being ‘user friendly tools’.

It is important to note that the new set of SCCs is significantly different than the previous set. For example, instead of focusing on the status of the parties as “controller” or “processor”, the new SCCs focus on the location of the parties, regardless of status. This is a significant departure from the prior form. Continue Reading Out With the Old, In With the New: New GDPR Standard Contractual Clauses

Seyfarth Synopsis:  On May 12, 2021, President Joe Biden issued a very broad, 34 page “Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity.” The Executive Order, or “EO”, can be found here. This order comes six months after the notorious SolarWinds attack, and mere weeks after other high-profile attacks have invaded our networks, and shut down pieces of the nation’s critical infrastructure causing gasoline shortages in certain parts of the country.

By “force of law” the EO applies only to the federal government and federal government systems. By extension, the EO applies, or will apply, to thousands of government contractors and subcontractors that provide IT goods and services (e.g., software) to the US government. Notably, many of the cybersecurity provisions have yet to be written and many will have to go through a drafting and comment period. Other of the provisions may look “new” but have actually been around for a while (like multi-factor authentication and end-point solutions).

The order does not touch on every aspect of US business, like critical infrastructure, but it is a wonderfully good start as it sets forth certain policies and procedures that every business must (if you are a government contractor) or at least should consider enacting. The clear implication of the EO is that the government, IT contractors and providers, and the private sector can no longer wait around for the next shoe to drop. The time for action is now.

So despite being aspirational (at least for today and for some time in the future), the EO makes probably its most important point in its opening statement (Section 1. “Policy”): “We are all in this together.” Indeed the EO opens by noting:

“(C)ybersecurity requires more than government action. Protecting our Nation from malicious cyber actors requires the Federal Government to partner with the private sector. The private sector must adapt to the continuously changing threat environment, ensure its products are built and operate securely, and partner with the Federal Government to foster a more secure cyberspace.”

Let’s examine below certain pieces of the EO as it applies both to the federal government and government IT contractors and providers. The private sector should note that, similar to other “standards” like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (issued under the Obama Administration in February 2014), to the extent it doesn’t follow the guidance and the policies in the EO, they might fall squarely in the headlights of plaintiffs’ class action counsel who may say, if it was in the EO, why didn’t you follow the same guidance.

Removing Barriers to Sharing Threat Information

Given their position in providing IT goods and services to the government, the EO notes that the IT providers are in a very good position to know better than the government the threat landscape and incident information that affect the federal systems they serve. But by contract, the IT provider might be precluded from sharing that information with the government.

In response, the EO pledges that within 120 days, amendments to the contractual language already in use by the federal government is to be recommended to ensure that information pertaining to cyber threat intelligence as well as cyber incident response information can be shared promptly, ideally within three days (a three-day period is already in place under certain federal, state and EU guidelines). The EO is clear on this point: information sharing is one of its highest priorities.

Modernizing Federal Government Cybersecurity

Another high priority of the Biden Administration is the modernization of the federal government cybersecurity architecture (see Section Three of the EO):

“To keep pace with today’s dynamic and increasingly sophisticated cyber threat environment, the Federal Government must take decisive steps to modernize its approach to cybersecurity, including by increasing the Federal Government’s visibility into threats, while protecting privacy and civil liberties. The Federal Government must adopt security best practices; advance toward Zero Trust Architecture; accelerate movement to secure cloud services, including Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS); centralize and streamline access to cybersecurity data to drive analytics for identifying and managing cybersecurity risks; and invest in both technology and personnel to match these modernization goals.”

What does this mean at the end of the day?

  • Recognizing that the Cloud is likely the future of data storage for the majority of the US Government, yet the cloud has its own set of unique risks and thus needs its own security and incident response strategy;
  • That the government will move towards a recognized system of identity and access management, including mandatory multi-factor authentication; and that
  • The government will adopt encryption of data at rest and in transit.

Enhancing Software Supply Chain Security

This section clearly relates to the government’s previous responses to the SolarWinds cybersecurity attack in December 2020. Here, the EO calls upon the National Institute of Standards and Technology to produce guidelines for enhancing the software supply chain security. This guidance shall include standards, procedures or criteria regarding:

  • secure software development environments, including such actions as:
    • using administratively separate build environments;
    • auditing trust relationships;
    • establishing multi-factor, risk-based authentication and conditional access across the enterprise;
    • documenting and minimizing dependencies on enterprise products that are part of the environments used to develop, build, and edit software;
    • employing encryption for data; and
    • monitoring operations and alerts and responding to attempted and actual cyber incidents;
  • generating and, when requested by a purchaser, providing artifacts that demonstrate conformance to the processes set forth in subsection (e)(i);
  • employing automated tools, or comparable processes, to maintain trusted source code supply chains, thereby ensuring the integrity of the code;
  • employing automated tools, or comparable processes, that check for known and potential vulnerabilities and remediate them, which shall operate regularly, or at a minimum prior to product, version, or update release.

Improving Detection of Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities and Incidents

Finally, like is more common already in the private sector, the EO urges the adoption of endpoint detection and response initiatives to support proactive detection of cybersecurity incidents within federal government infrastructure, active cyber hunting, containment and remediation, and incident response. The hope is that such initiatives will support a “playbook” that would better demonstrate the EO’s mandate to provide a better level of incident response and remediation capabilities throughout all levels and departments of the levels of government.

The above is just a partial list of initiatives that the Biden Administration has put forth in the EO. There are indeed other initiatives that bear close examination like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and there are other technologies, like machine learning anomaly detection devices that also can potentially make the federal government more “cyber safe.” But, the most important part of the EO is that now “there is a plan.” A plan that will be reviewed by experts like the NIST, and thereafter refined and put into place. And with all good fortune that plan will spread like wildfire across the whole private sector as well. Then all parts of government and industry will likely be more cyber safe.

There have been seminal events in the cybersecurity space since 2012, but there has likely been no event in recent times bigger than the SolarWinds attack which was first announced in December 2020. Though it likely had “nation-state” origins, the SolarWinds attack raised a number of serious issues for US companies and indeed the US Government itself.

We don’t have all the answers but we have some. Join us on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 from 12 p.m.  to 1:15 p.m. CT, when this all-star panel will discuss critical issues raised by the attack like: patch management, software development, third party vendor risk management, and vulnerability management. The panel will also discuss strategies to increase cyber-risk and systemic-risk communications between the board, C-Suite and IT so that issues are both raised, appreciated, and dealt with on a timely basis. Cybersecurity is a team sport, and indeed likely one of the most important ones of our generation. We hope you can join us for this event.

Speakers

Paul A. Ferrillo, Privacy & Cybersecurity Partner, Seyfarth

Jerry Bessette, Senior VP, Booz Allen’s Cyber Incident Response Program

Chris Cummiskey, CEO, Cummiskey Strategic Solutions, LLC

Kate Fazzini, CEO, Flore Albo LLC

Robert Zukis, CEO, Digital Directors Network

If you have any questions, please contact Morgan Coury at mcoury@seyfarth.com and reference this event.

*This webinar is accredited for CLE in CA, IL, NJ, and NY. Credit will be applied for as requested for TX, GA, WA, NC, FL and VA. The following jurisdictions accept reciprocal credit with these accredited states, and individuals can use the certificate they receive to gain CLE credit therein: AZ, CT, ME, NH. The following jurisdictions do not require CLE, but attendees will receive general certificates of attendance: DC, MA, MD, MI, SD. For all other jurisdictions, a general certificate of attendance and the necessary materials will be issued that can be used in other jurisdictions for self-application.

This was originally published as a Seyfarth Legal Update.

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Continue Reading Portland, OR and New York City Follow Illinois’ Lead on Private Rights of Action in Biometric Privacy Legislation

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Cross-posted from Seyfarth’s Workplace Class Action Blog.

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